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Rackstraw Downes by Sanford Schwartz
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Rackstraw Downes

by Sanford Schwartz

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Covering thirty years of the artist's work, in addition to numerous illustrations the book contains three essays: Cinemascope Vision by Sanford Schwartz; As Far as the Eye Can See by Robert Store; and Turning the Head in Empirical Space by the artist himself. The book also contains a chronology, selected biography, and an index.

There are illustrations throughout, one hundred colour plates and fifteen black and white images, most of the plates are full page or as near as possible in size, some cross the gutter fro doube page spreads, and they include a few close-up details - something essential in such a study where most of the originals pieces are of considerable size. The landscape format of the book is an obvious choice for an artist who paints almost exclusively very wide pictures.

The first two essays are informative and cover Rackstraw Downes' background and training, his contacts and influences, his work in the context of notable contemporary artists, and discuss his work if in somewhat reverential terms. The essay by Downes himself is very interesting as he considers his work in the present context and in relation to Renaissance and post-Renaissance art, and with illuminating perceptions on perspective drawing.

A beautiful well produced book, it has certainly changed my perception of the artist and added much to my understanding. ( )
  presto | Apr 23, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0691120471, Hardcover)

It might seem odd that a brilliant realist painter would choose to spend months working on a seven-foot-long canvas of a boring stretch of the New Jersey Turnpike. But in Rackstraw Downes' hands, ordinary or unappealing elements of the American landscape suddenly seem worthy of close attention. Rackstraw Downes, an overdue tribute to the English-born artist, combines 100 striking color reproductions of the artist's panoramic paintings (including vivid details) with illuminating commentary. After studying at Yale University in the early 1960s, when abstraction was beginning to yield to Pop and Minimalism, Downes found his footing by taking a long, careful look at landscape. In recent years, he has painted sites in Manhattan, including luminous city views and an eerie 1998 portrait of untenanted office space in the World Trade Center. But his major subjects have always been marginal spaces in nature—landfills and scrubland, culverts and dumps. Putting up with the vagaries of weather and interruptions by suspicious officials, he paints these scenes onsite. Lively details picked out in jewel-like colors are united by the precise evocation of light and atmosphere, the geometry of lines and curves, and Downes’ complex system of perspective. (He writes about recreating the experience of turning your head to take in an entire panorama.) Seeking neither to romanticize these scenes nor to critique them—although he is an environmentalist at heart—Downs prefers the naturalist's dispassionate approach. An essay by Sanford Schwartz engagingly discusses the artist's background and interests. Robert Storr, the former Museum of Modern Art curator, analyzes Downes' relationship to key issues of realist painting in the twentieth century. Downes, a longtime essayist, contributes detailed observations about his use of perspective, which lead him on conversational excursions into the history of art. A detailed chronology and bibliography round out this superb study of an "artist's artist" who deserves a much wider audience. --Cathy Curtis

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:41 -0400)

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