The Phillips Collects: Richard Serra

Richard Serra, Reykjavik, 1991

Richard Serra, Reykjavik, 1991, Paintstik over screenprint on Japan paper, 67 x 76 in., ed. 7/46, The Phillips Collection, Gift of Sid Stolz and David Hatfield. Photo: Rhiannon Newman

Reykjavik is a silkscreen created with oil-stick at Gemini G.E.L Editions, where Richard Serra (b. 1938) worked frequently during the late 1980s and the early 1990s, developing a process that gives these prints the weight and physical presence of his sculpture. Here, he begins with a single layer of flat black ink applied onto a specially treated paper in the areas to be coated with oil-stick. The rich quality of the work is the result of passing the viscous material through the screen and from using a textured roller over the surface of the print. Serra’s Afangar (1990)—a topological sculpture project on a small island near Reykjavik comprised of nine pairs of black basalt columns cut from local quarries and placed around the island’s periphery—was a source of inspiration for this series of prints. Working on the project prompted Serra to fill many notebooks with drawings, which were later transferred onto small etching plates. Serra turned to silkscreen to achieve on paper a sense of monumental landscape.

Detail of Richard Serra, Reykjavik, 1991

Detail of Richard Serra, Reykjavik, 1991. Photo: Kabrea Hayman

Bice Lazzari: Music and Poetry

Bice Lazzari in her studio in Rome_Photo by Sergio Pucci

Bice Lazzari in her studio in Rome. Photo: Sergio Pucci

“Bice Lazzari had a unique mind. Her early work was a precursor to abstraction in many ways, as she was always striving to go beyond the usual vision to the next level, seeking the essence, the core of the painting.”-Renato Miracco, curator of Bice Lazzari: The Poetry of Mark-Making (on view at The Phillips Collection through February 24) and former cultural attaché to the Embassy of Italy

Born in Venice, Bice (Beatrice) Lazzari (1900-1981) was a pioneer in postwar Italian art. For most women in the early 20th century, there were limited opportunities to pursue a career in the fine arts. Although trained as a figure painter, Lazzari began her career in the late 1920s in the applied arts, which emphasized a geometric style. In the postwar years, she made Rome her permanent home and it was there that she found her own artistic path. Her paintings of the 1950s are expressive and abstract, while her works of the 1960s and 70s, though increasingly reductive, are highly experimental in materials and have a singular focus on rhythmic mark-making.

Lazzari’s work resonates with utmost control and minimal gesture. Using pencil, ink, and pastel, Lazzari creates poetic compositions that resemble graphs, maps, musical staffs, and notes. Later in her career, she used acrylics and further simplified her imagery, creating grids, lines, rows of dots and dashes, and irregular shapes using a limited palette. Reflecting her lifelong passion for music and poetry, Lazzari’s lines and forms create rhythms that interact with each other, making her works come alive in a manner akin to musical notation.

Through February 24, The Phillips Collection is proud to showcase four paintings by the artist recently gifted to the museum by Lazzari’s family and the Lazzari Archive in Rome, the first of her works to enter the collection, along with several loaned works on paper.

“Everything that moves in space is measurement and poetry. Painting searches in signs and color for the rhythm of these two forces, aiding and noting their fusion.”-Bice Lazzari, 1957

Bice Lazzari, Sensa titolo, 1974, Acrylic on canvas, 9 13/16 x 9 13/16 in., Gift of Mariagrazia Oliva Lapadula and the Archivio Bice Lazzari, Roma 2018, courtesy of the Embassy of Italy, Washington, DC

Bice Lazzari, Sensa titolo, 1974, Acrylic on canvas, 9 13/16 x 9 13/16 in., The Phillips Collection, Gift of Mariagrazia Oliva Lapadula and the Archivio Bice Lazzari, Roma 2018, courtesy of the Embassy of Italy, Washington, DC

Matisse and His Textiles: Interior With Egyptian Curtain

Interior With Egyptian Curtain, Henri Matisse,  1948, Oil on canvas, 45 3/4 x 35 1/8 in.

Interior With Egyptian Curtain, Henri Matisse, 1948, Oil on canvas, 45 3/4 x 35 1/8 in.

When I went to the exhibition Matisse and His Textiles: The Fabric of Dreams at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2004, I was astonished to see the real Egyptian curtain used in Matisse’s painting of the same name owned by The Phillips Collection. According to the catalogue essay, written by Matisse expert Hilary Spurling, Matisse had a lifelong love affair with textiles. He grew up in a dark, dreary part of northeast France, in a small town that was known throughout France for its shimmering textiles. Weavers constantly experimented with different ways of combining color and pattern.

Matisse escaped to Paris when he was a young man. He knew nothing of the art work of his contemporaries or the Impressionists. Instead, he used textile vocabulary to describe works of art. He spoke of a given artist’s work as being like silk, taffeta or velvet. From the top of a double decker bus, Matisse saw a beautiful blue and white printed textile in the window of a secondhand shop, which he purchased with funds that he could ill afford. He placed it on a table which he covered with still life elements such as bowls of fruit. He used that and other textiles to create powerful compositions over a period of many years, calling his collection of fabrics “my working library.”

Photo by Kabrea Hayman

Photo by Kabrea Hayman

Matisse was a prodigious collector of textiles. He had hundreds of them, including rugs from northern Africa, the Congo, and couture fabrics purchased at the end of the season. He used the textiles as inspiration when he created new compositions. On his trips from Paris to Nice, he brought many of the textiles with him. According to Hilary Spurling, visitors to Matisse’s studio left dazed and disbelieving after seeing his collection of textiles, thinking that his studio looked more like something out of a fairy tale rather than the center of serious productive effort.

Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse

Detail of Matisse's Egyptian Curtain

Detail of Matisse’s Egyptian Curtain

Deeply inspired by textiles from Congo, which he called “my African velvets,” Matisse began his series of cut outs, in which he cut figurative and abstract patterns out of colored paper. The Egyptian Curtain is one of the last paintings he did before embarking on the cut outs.

A photograph of Matisse with the Egyptian curtain in his studio reveals the ways in which the artist altered his composition from the original by turning up the volume on the colors he used. The painting transformed quiet ochres into a dynamic composition of dizzying reds and greens.

By The Phillips Collection’s Head Librarian, Karen Schneider.