Press Releases

Exhibition Announcement - "Rackstraw Downes: Onsite Paintings, 1972-2008"

Release date: April 28, 2011

Rackstraw Downes: Onsite Paintings, 1972-2008

May 28 – Aug 21, 2011

The Weatherspoon Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro is pleased to present the exhibition Rackstraw Downes: Onsite Paintings, 1972-2008. This is the first major survey exhibition of paintings by the British-born, Yale-educated painter Rackstraw Downes (b. 1939), who divides his time between New York and Texas and has been painting exterior and interior panoramic scenes of the American land- and urbanscape for over thirty-five years.

The exhibition consists of approximately thirty-two works, many of them multiple-part paintings, created between 1972 and 2008. At first glance, Downes’s work appears to be photo-realistic. However, Downes never uses photographs, but instead relies on sketches and preparatory works to determine the vantage point and content of each composition.  His panoramic paintings strike a unique balance between realism and abstraction, timelessness and history. He paints exclusively from direct observation over a period of several weeks to several months, outdoors or indoors, but always onsite, using a portable easel.  

Downes uses a journal to record his working process, thoughts on art, exhibitions, books, and his personal life. In talking about a painting by Poussin, he writes, “I resented that painting. It is beautiful but it disproved my point about order being beyond our awareness-not the order of geometry, but the order of anthills, natural processes, the weather.  That is serous order, that we can’t measure, with our little minds.”  Or, in commenting about his work on a painting of the Westside Highway, “The site, however much trouble I’m having, remains fabulous.  Could this & the projects made a wonderful contrasting pair? More time, more time, more time!”

Rackstraw Downes is a native of England who lives and works in the U.S.  He received a B.A. (1961) from the University of Cambridge, and a B.F.A. (1963) and M.F.A. (1964) from Yale University.  He is a 2009 recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship.  His work is in the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the National Gallery of Art, among many others.  His essays have appeared in such publications as The New York Times Book Review, Art in America, and Art Journal.

Rackstraw Downes: Onsite Paintings 1972-2008 is organized by the Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York.

Image: Rackstraw Downes, Ventilation Tower with Estivating Snow Plows, 1988, oil on canvas, 38 1/4 x 50 1/4 in. Private Collection, Upper Saddle River, N.J.

Related Education and Public Programming 

Artist Talk
Thursday, June 2, 6:30 pm; Pre-talk reception at 5:30 pm
Well regarded as a contemporary exterior and interior land- and urbanscape painter, Downes will speak about his work on the occasion of his first major survey exhibition of his paintings. Come early and enjoy a pre-talk reception at 5:30 pm in the sculpture garden. Free.

Noon @ the 'Spoon Tour - Rackstraw Downes: Onsite Paintings, 1972-2008
Tuesday, July 12, 12 noon
Noon @ the 'Spoon features a 20-minute tour of a new exhibition. Offered every second Tuesday of the month. Free.


 For a complete, updated list of programs, visit:

Guided + Self-Guided Visits
School and community groups are invited to visit the museum on their own or via a docent-led tour. Admission and tours are free. Please contact us at least three weeks in advance to schedule your visit, 336.334.5770 or

About the Weatherspoon Art Museum

The Weatherspoon Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro acquires, preserves, exhibits, and interprets modern and contemporary art for the benefit of its multiple audiences, including university, community, regional, and beyond. Through these activities, the museum recognizes its paramount role of public service, and enriches the lives of diverse individuals by fostering an informed appreciation and understanding of the visual arts and their relationship to the world in which we live.

The Weatherspoon Art Museum at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro was founded by Gregory Ivy in 1941 and is the earliest of any art facilities within the UNC system.  The museum was founded as a resource for the campus, community, and region and its early leadership developed an emphasis—maintained to this day—on presenting and acquiring modern and contemporary works of art. A 1950 bequest from the renowned collection of Claribel and Etta Cone, which included prints and bronzes by Henri Matisse and other works on paper by American and European modernists, helped to establish the Weatherspoon’s permanent collection.  Other prescient acquisitions during Ivy’s tenure included a 1951 suspended mobile by Alexander Calder, Woman by Willem de Kooning, a pivotal work in the artist’s career that was purchased in 1954, and the first drawings by Eva Hesse and Robert Smithson to enter a museum collection.
In 1989, the museum moved into its present location in The Anne and Benjamin Cone Building designed by the architectural firm Mitchell/Giurgola. The museum has six galleries and a sculpture courtyard with over 17,000 square feet of exhibition space.  The American Association of Museums accredited the Weatherspoon in 1995 and renewed its accreditation in 2005.

Collections + Exhibitions
The permanent collection of the Weatherspoon Art Museum is considered to be one of the foremost of its kind in the Southeast.  It represents all major art movements from the beginning of the 20th century to the present. Of the nearly 6,000 works in the collection are pieces by such prominent figures as Sol LeWitt, Robert Mangold, Cindy Sherman, Al Held, Alex Katz, Henry Tanner, Louise Nevelson, Mark di Suvero, Deborah Butterfield, and Robert Rauschenberg. The museum regularly lends to major exhibitions nationally and internationally.

The Weatherspoon also is known for its adventurous and innovative exhibition program. Through a dynamic annual calendar of fifteen to eighteen exhibitions and a multi-disciplinary educational program for audiences of all ages, the museum provides an opportunity for audiences to consider artistic, cultural, and social issues of our time and enriches the life of our university, community, and region.

Weatherspoon Art Museum
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Spring Garden and Tate Streets, PO Box 26170
Greensboro, NC 27402-6170, 336.334.5770,

For more information or press images, contact:
Loring Mortensen, 336-256-1451,

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Contact our Public & Community Relations Officer, Loring Mortensen, for press-related requests, images and information.

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