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Rackstraw Downes Hardcover – May 8, 2005

5 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

From Publishers Weekly

"Just the facts," a phrase much invoked in discussions of Downes' work, is elevated to an aesthetic practice by these three essays and more than 100 plates. Typically producing realistic landscapes painted on decidedly horizontal canvases (some, only as tall as a standard sheet of paper, stretch several feet wide), Downes focuses on freeway overpasses, cement factories, ventilation towers and traffic intersections, but neither these constructions nor the ecological and market critiques they imply are Downes' "subjects." Downes is a "hard-core 'eyeball' realist" Storr tells us in a thoughtfully elegant essay. Storr's efficient moniker cuts to the quick of Downes' practice: Downes paints by looking deeply; he shuns the assistance of photography and, instead, returns to a site several times during as long as a two- to three-year period to render each scene as faithfully as possible. The goal is not to recreate what can be explicitly seen, but to reveal what can be apprehended only through attention sustained across a vast span of time. In an essay contributed by the artist, Downes describes his process as "pitting all-out empiricism against habit, memory, formulae, precedent." As this book shows, Downes makes "the facts," subjective though they may be, beautiful things to see.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; y First printing edition (May 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691120471
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691120478
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 11 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #886,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Rackstraw Downes is a unique artist. He must have been born with the patience of Job or simply endless concentration patterns, as every thing the man draws, etches, or paints represents the most painstakingly observed detail and transfer to paper or canvas.

Though his name is well known to museums and art collectors, the general public is less aware of his prodigious gifts. This superb book should change that. Sanford Schwartz is a gifted writer and his essay on the work and the man is not only eminently readable, it also informs about the clarity of Downes' execution of his landscapes and vistas of cities. Robert Storr contributes another essay that places Rackstraw Downes in the pantheon with other representational artists and surrounds his evaluation with fine art history writing.

But of course the glory of this large-scale volume is in the reproduction plates of the paintings and drawings. Generous space is given to define details so important to understanding Downes' gift. And the extended panorama paintings are given fluid space to unfold so that the reader can slowly absorb the incredible amount of visual information Downes gives us.

This is one of the collectable artist monographs - in content, in visuals, and in design. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, December 05
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I've purchased a lot of monographs over the past couple of decades. I've come across Rackstraw Downes' work in the art magazines for at least that long. When I discovered the a book on his work had been published I ordered it immediately.

This artist works out in the environment, painting city, town and sometimes rural scenes. He does not use photography. Most of his paintings are amazing wide panoramas. Mr. Downes achieves wonderful painterly realism which is quite different than photo real painting.

The book is laid out horizontally to give maximum exposure to the wide paintings. It is very nicely produced with readable type, numerous color and B & W pictures and articles, a bio and other data that fans of his work will enjoy.

Overall, there is nothing that distracts from the purpose of showing off these wonderful artworks.

Steve Frenkel

Marietta, GA
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As a painter and someone who has admired Rackstraw Downes for a while, I can honestly say that I really enjoyed this volume. It not only provides a pretty extensive collection of images of Downes' paintings, but also generously provides a number of detail shots (something all books on paintings should do). It doesn't even skimp on the essays. What else can I say? If you are a fan of Downes, you would do well to get this book.
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The hardcover listing Sanford Schwartz, Robert Storr, as well as Rackstraw Downes (the artist himself) is the book these reviewers have extolled. For good reason. A simply remarkable painter, with great reproductions of his work, and especially (for me) the reproduced details of that work. The included essays are terrific. And it's wonderfully large and plentiful.

The problem is that there seem to be other, paperbacks at least, with the same title that are not this work. Different covers, and no supporting details, so I can't tell what's in them.

The "Downes: Onsite" volume, by the way, is quite lovely in its way, but the reproductions are tiny: not the way to view this artist's work. An advantage of this title is that a number of his newer, and, in my opinion, finest works are included.
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