Saturday, May 11, 2013

Growing a Gallery/ Fountain Street Fine Art: Virginia Fitzgerald talks about 'Rhapsody' by Jenn...

I'm published!!!
In the Garden #116
115 color silkscreen on Arches Cover paper, 1982-83
edition: Edition of 100, sheet size: 29 ¼ x 38 ¼ inches

Here is the link to Fountain Street Fine Art's blog, on which they have published an essay by me. It is part of a series of occasional blog posts by member artists, where a member artist talks about a work of art which has inspired them and influenced the way they work. They did a great job editing it as it needed to be shorter, but if you are interested in the longer version, my full essay is below, along with images of other pieces from Bartlett's work.
If you don't know of Jennifer Bartlett's work, I highly recommend you look her up.  I was introduced to her when I was studying the life and work of Elizabeth Murray, they were friends and colleagues in the  competitive and exciting New York Art world in the 70's.
House: Large Grid (1998)
Enamel over silkscreen grid on baked enamel, steel plates, h: 90 x w: 90 in

Multi-Colored Lines, 2011
enamel over silkscreen grid on baked enamel steel plates
39 x 39 inches
Jennifer Bartlett and Rhapsody

There is much about Jennifer Bartlett and her work that inspires me. The first being her practice of creating rules and systems which she follows until they don’t work and then she breaks or alters these self created constraints.  One of her self-created systems is her signature steel plates.
Rhapsody, installation view of Jennifer Bartlett: Early Plate Work
Addison Gallery of  American Art, Fall 2006

In 1968 Bartlett began working on square steel plates coated with a layer of white baked enamel, then screen-printed with a light gray grid (referencing graph paper which she was using at the time.) Over this surface Bartlett used Testor enamel hobby paints, available in 25 colors.  During this time in the New York art world, Bartlett’s plates could be construed as a minimalist’s modular units or a philosophical statement on “the object”, but they were not.  Bartlett was tired of the paraphilia of oil paints, the stretchers and canvas; she wanted a simple, uniform surface onto which she could just work. “I thought that if I could just eliminate everything I hate doing, like stretching canvas, then I’d be able to work a lot more,” [as quoted by Calvin Tomkins in Jennifer Bartlett, Abbeville Press, 1985] The plates were a non-traditional, infinitely expandable painting surface that was easy managed and convenient for living, working and showing in New York.  They offered Bartlett a ‘place’ to explore, to experiment and to find her artistic voice.  She had realized that her better work came out of the process of doing and she wanted to create a ‘labor intensive’ method. “I was looking for a way to get work done without the burden of having to do anything good.  I wanted desperately to be good, of course, but whenever I sat down and tried to think of something that would be terrific to do, I couldn’t.  — Jennifer Bartlett  [as quoted by Calvin Tomkins in Jennifer Bartlett, Abbeville Press, 1985] An idea I relate to in my studio practice.
detail of Rhapsody, row 88-row 96
Rhapsody installed in the Atrium at MoMA, April 2011. Consisting of 987 enameled steel plates, the work spans over 150 feet, while maintaining an intimate interaction with the viewer.
Jennifer Bartlett’s seminal piece, Rhapsody (1975-1976) consists of 987 of Bartlett’s one foot square steel plates, arranged in 142 rows of approximately 7 plates each, requiring a total of around 153 running feet of wall space to be exhibited. Bartlett wanted to create a large painting “that had everything in it”.  She set her rules and themes.  The piece would include four figurative images: a house, a tree, a mountain and the ocean.  She also chose 3 nonfigurative elements: a square, a circle and a triangle.
She envisioned the piece similar to a conversation where subjects would ebb and flow; different voices would be heard and woven together.  The painting would include segments dedicated to line, to color and to different methods painting: freehand, dots and ruled.  She also made a rule about editing the painting, within one day of finishing a plate she needed to decide if the plate would be included in the painting or erased.

Rhapsody installed in the Atrium at MoMA, April 2011. Consisting of 987 enameled steel plates, 
the work spans over 150 feet, while maintaining an intimate interaction with the viewer.
Bartlett began Rhapsody in the summer of 1975, while housesitting for friends in South Hampton. She had the uses of a cottage in exchange for caring for the house and the garden. Bartlett got so absorbed in her work that the garden dried up.   Bartlett returned to New York continued to work on Rhapsody during that fall and winter, often logging in 12-14 hour days of painting. In May 1975 Rhapsody was exhibited at the Paula Cooper Gallery o much fanfare.  The piece received a glowing review in the New York Times and a few days into the show the piece was sold, in its entirety, to a collector new to the scene, guaranteeing Bartlett’s place in Art History.



My attraction to Rhapsody extends to most all of Bartlett’s work.  Bartlett’s systems, processes, ideas and the final piece captivate me.  I am enthralled by the story of her summer in South Hampton, fantasizing about having time, where she had her idea and was able to get lost in its execution, and only a garden suffered. I am bewitched by how Bartlett exploring different imagery, such as a house, in different styles, with different materials and on various scales. I am drawn to her uses of the grid, both on the individual plates, on a canvas or on the gallery wall.  
Bartlett
Focusing on Rhapsody I love the sheer size of it, so massive yet intimate with each painstakingly rendered plate adding to the sum of the parts.  The painting simultaneously pushes the viewer away to experience its entity and pulls the viewer closer for an intimate encounter with each individual plate. Rhapsody has been compared to a poem, each plate being a line or verse, together creating a sweeping narrative.  I love how Rhapsody includes everything, how it mirrored the chaotic art world of the 70’s, including styles from minimalism to pattern and decoration to conceptualism, and so much more. I am intrigued by how it is a painting as well as an installation.  But, beyond Rhapsody, what I appreciate most about Bartlett’s work is her uses of rules, that she invents and follow until they become inconvenient.  I am inspired by her systems that were a means to an end; a way of freeing Bartlett so she could just work.





detail from House, 2003
Portfolio of 25 screenprints, 14 x 14 inches
Edition 31/45  
"Boats" 1987

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