Attitude Adjustment With Rackstraw Downes

How often do we grudgingly put up with something because, well, it has to be there, it's a necessary evil in the scheme of civilization? Or how much do we pretend just isn't there? Sometimes when I'm driving and I see the ugly stuff in our built environment I try to wish it way -- like when I take the underpass beneath the hideous, elevated highway nearby, all rusted metal, darkness, and echoing noise. Not very Zen of me.

Spending some time with the work of Rackstraw Downes helps me adjust my attitude for the better. He paints the stuff I want to speed right past. I wouldn't say he makes these things beautiful (though in some cases the subjects are starkly beautiful, as in the empty office below), but he makes them worthy to gaze upon. And I wonder if when he is painting, say, the spiraling curl of barbed wire on a fence he actually does find the barbed wire pleasing. Maybe not. What we we can say with certainty is that the barbed wired is painted with as much care and commitment as would be given to the task of painting a pear blossom, a mountain stream, a portrait of a friend. The feeling I get is of embracing a subject -- an act that resides on a different spectrum than love and hate.


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