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November 29, 2000

British-American realist painter Rackstraw Downes gave a two-part lecture, “Turning the Head in the Empirical Space,” in Taylor Hall. His first presentation, examining the history of visual theories of perspective and perspectival painting, starting with Dutch 16th-century painters, led to his second, an interactive history and demonstration of his unique perspectival technique. Noting that Downes had turned from abstract art to embrace representational en pleine aire work in the 1970s, Lauren Arana ’01 wrote in The Miscellany News, “Downes describe this realization with giddy enthusiasm, abandoning the podium to demonstrate with his pointer the perspectival ellipsis that he achieved by turning his head from right to left as he painted the landscape before him. This method creates a stretched panorama that includes pictorial space beyond the limits of the canvas or page. Downes showed several drawings and paintings to which he had to attach extra pages or canvases to accommodate the breath of the landscape as he viewed it.” “The distorted effect,” she observed, “of Downes’s 100 to 180 degree elliptical perspective reduced to a two-dimensional canvas affords the viewer a more sweeping expanse than the average landscape painting, giving his work a more [dramatic] effect.”

“Later,” Arana concluded, “when explaining his exaggerated perspective, he stretched his neck and explained that you would have to be in a yoga pose! in order to fully capture his view. His lecture easily could have been translated into a fascinating…NPR or BBC program that I would be happy to stumble upon…any day.”

The Years