In Relation to the Whole
Three Essays from Three Decades – 1973, 1981, 1996
by Rackstraw Downes
EP 10: RACKSTRAW DOWNES’s first book collection, IN RELATION TO THE WHOLE: THREE ESSAYS FROM THREE DECADES - 1973, 1981, 1996 asks, “How does the young artist orient himself in relation to the whole cultural sprawl of his time? As his work gets included in a category of style, can he see what values that style expresses relative to the 360º spectrum of other points of view on life? If he focuses in on the used landscape, right down to some seemingly negligible weed or bit of trash, what thoughts does he have concerning the changes we have effected to the ecology of the entire planet?” Here are some of the issues Downes addresses in these three essays that, dating from three different decades, reflect his changing preoccupations.
RACKSTRAW DOWNES’s IN RELATION TO THE WHOLE poses and answers formidably one of the biggest questions that can be asked of art: What happens to the artist when he does not find himself at the center or does not choose to participate in the official art movements of his time? Downes’s essays, like his own practice, show us what it means for art to find and go its own way. Jim Feast in the American Book Review writes how Rackstraw Downes has “remained faithful to his Muse over the long haul, a fidelity that has demanded an austere commitment to realism and a dogged environmentalism… With great verve and style, Downes argues against the critical attitudes that force a premature closure of art’s possibilities… But these essays are not for the art connoisseur alone; they are filled with a crackling intelligence and a lapidary style. Downes’s insightfulness is shown not only by the fund of fresh insights on fellow painters, but on literature as well.”
RACKSTRAW DOWNES was born in England and after a literary education at Cambridge, came to the U.S., studied painting at the Yale School of Art and settled in New York. He paints his surroundings on site there as well as in rural Maine, industrial New Jersey, and mixed-use Texas. Recently he has had solo shows at the Marlborough Gallery and the Chinati Foundation. His work is represented in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Hirshhorn Museum, the Ludwig Museum, the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1998, and was inducted into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1999. He exhibits currently with the Betty Cuningham Gallery in New York. Rackstraw Downes is the recipient of a 2009 MacArthur Genius Grant.
In 1967, Downes started writing for Art News, The New York Times Book Review, and other publications. In 1979, he edited a book of the art criticism of Fairfield Porter. IN RELATION TO THE WHOLE: THREE ESSAYS FROM THREE DECADES 1973, 1981, 1996 is the first book collection of RACKSTRAW DOWNES’s writings. IN RELATION TO THE WHOLE is in its second printing, paperback, January 2004, 64 pp., sewn, bound and printed in Italy, with a two-color cover and a black and white photograph of the artist on the frontispiece.