Smithsonian's Archives of American Art Presents the Ninth Annual Raymond Lecture with Artist Rackstraw Downes

March 25, 2009
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British-born artist, teacher, editor and writer Rackstraw Downes will speak on “Thoughts of a Painter” April 30. There will be a reception at 5:30 p.m., and the lecture begins at 6 p.m. at the Cosmopolitan Club at 122 East 66th Street in New York City. Tickets are $50, and a portion of the proceeds benefit the Archives of American Art. For more information and to order tickets, the public may call (212) 399-2909 or visit

A modern-day Realist, Downes began his career as a geometrical abstract painter. Focusing on the landscape, Downes throws aside conventional perspective and builds his compositions intuitively. The first indication that there is something unique about his paintings is the exaggerated width-to-height format of his canvases. The horizon line is curved, not flat. Fond of quoting the French poet Paul Valéry, “[until] you draw an object you realize that…you had never actually seen it,” Downes focuses on the revelatory process of making art rather than the merely illustrative. His paintings reveal a world that we often walk by without seeing, and they make us realize that we should go back and pay closer attention.

Downes has written for The New York Times, Art in America, The New Criterion and many other publications. His writings have been collected in the publications “In Relation to the Whole” and “Under the Gowanus and Razor-Wire Journal.” He also served as editor of “Art in its Own Terms,” a collection of critical writings of the artist Fairfield Porter. At that time, Downes wrote that he admired Porter’s ability to write about the energy that animates a work of art. Today, Downes is his worthy successor.

The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art enlivens the extraordinary human stories behind America’s most significant art and artists. It is the world’s largest and most widely used resource dedicated to collecting and preserving the papers and primary records of the visual arts in America. Its collections, comprising 16 million items, are the world’s largest single source for such information. Visit the Archives Web site at

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