BOMB Interview: Rackstraw Downes

Writer Phillip Lopate talks with painter Downes about naivete, realism and the artistic appeal of urban steel and concrete structures.


Salon Staff
December 10, 2002 10:27PM (UTC)

The BOMBLive! Interview Series features live, intimate interviews with some of the most exciting artists and writers at work today. At the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, essayist Phillip Lopate spoke with painter Rackstraw Downes about landscapes and panoramas, realism vs. abstraction, and other topics.

In his abstract and realistic depictions Downes portrays the environment of such locales as the Donald Judd structures in Marfa, Texas; under the Gowanus bridge in Brooklyn, N.Y.; rural Maine; and inside the World Trade Center. These paintings are strikingly familiar and yet noticeably devoid of the human form. Downes received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1998 and was inducted into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1999.

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Lopate is an essayist, novelist and poet whose 10 books include "Portrait of My Body," "Being With Children," "The Rug Merchant" and "Against Joie de Vivre." He has written extensively on film, architecture, photography and painting. He is a professor of English at Hofstra University and is working on a book about the New York waterfront.

Interview [Part 1]: Rackstraw Downes' childhood in England [4:02]
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Interview [Part 2]: Downes' migration to art, to the U.S. and to Yale; the New York art world in the '60s [8:20]
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Interview [Part 3]: On Fairfield Porter, Alex Katz, naiveté, realism, the Gowanus Journal [9:36]
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Interview [Part 4]: On ambition, naked nature, landscape and panoramas [10:46]
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Interview [Part 5]: On illustration vs. art, rehabilitation of detail, Downes in the field [9:50]
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Launched in 1981, BOMB Magazine provides a forum in which emerging and established artists can speak openly and honestly about their work. BOMB's mission is to promote understanding and appreciation of the arts through in-depth interviews between peers, contextualizing those interviews through the presentation of artists' essays and original fiction, poetry and art.


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