Rackstraw Downes was born in England in 1939. He was educated at Cambridge University and Yale University. He worked for many years as an art critic before pursuing his own career as an artist.
Downes’s subjects are usually industrialized rural landscapes and urban scenes devoid of human figures. Some specific subjects found in his work include, under the Gowanus Bridge in Brooklyn, NY; inside the World Trade Center; rural Maine; and the Donald Judd structures of Marfa, TX.
In 1998, Downes received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Creative Artists Public Service Award. The following year, he became a member of the American Academy and the Institute of Arts and Letters.