• Thomas Downing, Untitled, 1962, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Benjamin P. Nicolette, 1977.86.3

Thomas Downing worked in the late 1950s with artists of the Washington Color Field School, who abandoned figural representation to explore the expressive power of color. They applied paint across large canvases to determine 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 arranged to form precise patterns. In Untitled, black, white, and muted primary colors cover the entire canvas. The circles are layered on top of one another, creating an undulating effect that makes the dots appear to be in motion. Like many color field artists, Downing worked on unprimed canvas, a technique that allowed his pigments to soak into the weave, resulting in works with 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
25 5826 in. (65.166.0 cm)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Gift of Benjamin P. Nicolette

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