Red Span

  • Thomas Downing, Red Span, 1964, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Woodward Foundation, 1976.108.39

Thomas Downing was a member of the Washington Color School, a group of artists who worked in Washington, D.C., during the larger Color Field movement that started in the 1940s and continued into the 60s. Color Field artists abandoned figural representation to explore the expressive power of color, applying it across large canvases to see how different colors relate to one another and to emphasize the canvas’s flat surface. Downing favored simple geometric forms, usually circles, which he carefully placed to form precise patterns. In Red Span, red, yellow, blue and black shapes arc gracefully around one another, the colors enlivened by a slender wedge of exposed canvas. Downing, like many Color Field painters, did not prime his canvases, a technique that allowed his pigments to soak into the weave, creating a more saturated, vivid appearance.

One of the more intelligent questions ever asked regarding my work was asked by a child. The question was Why do you paint circles instead of squares?’ My answer at the moment was because circles are easier to paint. There are no corners to go into and then get out of.’ ” The artist, in a 1972 letter to Vincent Melzac, quoted in Thomas Downing: Origin of the Dot: Paintings from the Vincent Melzac Collection, Conner Contemporary Art, 2002
Red Span
28 1828 18 in. (71.571.4 cm)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Gift of the Woodward Foundation

Mediums Description
acrylic on canvas
  • Abstract – geometric
Object Number
Linked Open Data
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