Thomas Downing was an important contributor of the color field movement in Washington D.C. during the 60's. Downing’s work explores the formal possibilities of color and color-space, freeing it from traditional associations, making it the sole subject of his compositions.
He received his BA in 1948 from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, and briefly at Pratt Institute. With a grant from Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Downing studied in Europe at the Académie Julian in Paris. At Catholic University, Downing studied under Kenneth Noland, one of the founding members of the Washington Color School. By 1956, Downing was an established member of Washington’s artistic community, associating with the Washington Workshop Center for the Arts and later, with the Sculptors Studio. Downing shared studio space with fellow Color Field artist Howard Mehring, and in 1959 they and Betty Pajac founded Origo, a cooperative gallery in Washington, D.C. Downing was also included in several major group exhibitions throughout the 1960s, including renowned art critic Clement Greenberg’s seminal exhibition, “Post-Painterly Abstraction” of 1964 along with Mehring, Noland, Frank Stella, and Helen Frankenthaler, among others. Downing taught at the Corcoran College of Art and Design for three years, where his ideas helped influence the next generation of Color School painters, including Sam Gilliam.
In his lifetime Downing showed in Allan Stone and the Stable Gallery, and at museums including the Museum of Modern Art, the Corcoran Gallery, the Whitney Museum, and the National Collection of Fine Arts (Smithsonian American Art Museum). Downing died in 1985 in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Today, his works can be seen at public institutions such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Phillips Collection, and the Harvard University Art Museums.