Alone in the Dying of the Light

by AryanArtnews
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Rackstraw Downes is one of the finest outdoor producers. His fidelity to the depiction of the environment in which he lives, the meticulous registration of matter, light, color and air, does not look like a picture, no matter how dull their appearance is. Is also one of the great achievements of postwar painting. Downs is known for its panoramic views of New York City, the countryside of Maine, the coast of Texas and various locations around Marfa. His paintings are in an unexpected and thought-provoking way, such as when he bends the horizon or uses the architecture of elevated roads and wide urban streets to draw rhythmic and dissonant sounds into deep space at once. It is a fusion of perspectives. His ability to register details and vast spaces enhances his work to a unique place.

Laxtorow Downs: Drawing The Betty Cuningham Gallery (January 27-March 19, 2022) introduces his drawing, a lesser-known aspect of the artist’s work. But it does little to cover what is happening with these deeply moving testimonies that Downs drew between 1975 and 2020. Whether standing in the Texas Desert near the mining site or in the corner of Manhattan, surrounded by cookie cutter office buildings, he is dedicated to registering details of his habitat and his The view is diminishing for the reasons he reveals in the drawings.

In drawings such as “Looking down from a friend’s window on the Upper West Side” (c. 1975) and “Presidio Cell Tower” (2005), Downes saw the world in front of him. The lines can be dark and sturdy, or thick and delicate. He felt that the relationship between gaze and hand-painting was perfectly coordinated. What made this connection even stronger was that Downs never showed off or drew more than necessary, and it seemed like there were no lines of signature. The directness of these and other early drawings remains amazing.

Rackstraw Downes, “Alabama Ave. Stop on the J Line, 2” (2006), Graphite on Blue Thread Paper, 15×31 inches

It is juxtaposed with recent drawings and has a title together. In the artist’s studioLarger, earlier drawings, numbered and dated in 2020, have come to relate to Downs, similar to connecting the American flag and target to Jasper Johns. Is shown.

Keeping in mind the materials of the world he draws, the series of drawings for 2020 is drawn on a spiral-bound notebook paper of approximately 9 1/2 x 12 1/2 inches. Paper, which is a tan, blue-gray, or blue-threaded cream, has an uneven, hump surface. Like his previous work, he paints with graphite. The difference is that in previous drawings, Downs mainly created contour lines and converted the jumble of what he saw into a rhythmic order, such as 15 x 31 “Alabama Avenue. Stop at J Line 2” (2006). That’s what I did. Made in inches and onsite.

The place where Downs chose to stand and look in all directions speaks for itself. Down from the top of the paper, you’ll find an elevated subway girder overhead. This is the main form of the drawing. Guide our gaze to the left with the sheet of paper facing down. The subway runs directly above the street and extends into deep space. On the right side of the drawing, the girder extends down and straddles the street that passes in front of the artist. Beyond the pillars that support these girders is an unconventional three-story building. This is where the Downs genius is born. From what he stands and draws, the girders and building architecture surround an irregular empty trapezoid above the center of the screen. That open space is very important to drawing and is true to my urban experience (certainly not unique) that I don’t want to be surrounded or overwhelmed by everything around me. At the same time, the curve above the girder records Downs’ line of sight. It tracks Downs’s line of sight as Downs moves and forms the space in front of him.

Rackstraw Downes, “In the Artist’s Studio XV” (2020), graphite on cream-colored paper with blue thread, 9.5×12.625 inches

Drawings with titles collectively In the artist’s studioIt’s clear that Downs can no longer stand outside the busy streets for hours to paint, or return to the same place every day to paint. Still, he is faithful to what he sees and the joy it brings, focusing on his physical condition and what is in front of him: his bed, pedestrian, closet, easel, brush, book, Chairs, radiators, workbenches, rooms, and painting walls.

This didn’t seem to be Downs’ intention, but one of the things he comes across in these drawings is the rigorous and almost monk life he has lived to create art. The other is that there is no division between his art and his life. He works where he lives and where he works, especially now that his movements are restricted. More importantly, there are no attempts to elicit an ounce of self-pity or sympathy for the viewer. He does not show that his situation is special.

The use of porous lines and slight shading in the form of wooden chair backs have replaced the firm, winding contours of Downs’ plain-air drawings. The result is a feeling of fullness and bareness. This is a sharp contradiction reflected by the perception that one day he will become these disposables and may live longer than he does.

Rackstraw Downes, “In the Artist’s Studio XVI” (2020), Graphite on Tan Paper, 9.5×12.625 inches

We live in a world where the aversion to seeing what we are is as common as breathing. If you can see other places, do so. The world of art is littered with flashy boring and expensive distractions, many of which are celebrated as good bets on auction houses. Mortality and the passage of time are not fashionable subjects.

Downs keeps an eye on what he knows is inevitable. “In the Artist’s Studio XV” (2020) is a meditation about death, but at the same time powerful and modern. All of the drawings are at eye level. This is an empty bed, a pedestrian, a cane, a ladder, the inside of a clothes closet with sliding doors, a walled one, and a dresser. The bottom left of this cream-colored paper with blue thread is missing. You can see two stains. One is in the lower center and the other is made up of two marks, in the lower right corner. Time has already invaded the drawing.

The fact that Downs’ paintings are completely secular is noteworthy. There are no signs or symbols that we relate to transcendence or future life. This is what the drawings tell us: beds, things that help us keep moving, clothes, and places to sit. The sliding ladder on the far right of the closet will probably never be used by Downs again. Everything stored on the closet will be closed. One of the things this humble painting does is to reveal how we have become crude as a culture, stand next to our latest favorite work of art, and post a selfie on social media. ..

Rackstraw Downes, “In the Artist’s Studio XVII” (2020), graphite on cream-colored paper, 9.5×12.625 inches

The Downs painting is a record of someone who was not in the crowd. Bright lines and soft, gentle markings, reminiscent of rows of clothing, their empty volumes, and sensitive interactions with the rough surface of paper, bring something unusual in today’s art world: the wonderful and honest of ham drums. And an unflinching view If we’re lucky, we’ll live long enough to experience someday.

These numbered drawings are records of anyone who knows he will leave the world. Contrary to Dylan Thomas’s macho call, “Don’t enter softly on that good night,” Downes doesn’t get angry “against the death of light.” It’s a cultural shame to have lovingly painted and painted most of his life, never having a comprehensive museum show in the city where he lived.

Laxtorow Downs: Drawing It will continue until March 19th at the Betty Cunningham Gallery (Manhattan, Lower East Side, Livington Street 15). The exhibition was hosted by the gallery.

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