Susan Rothenberg’s Three Masks and Painting a Mask

Susan Rothenberg, Three Masks, 2006. Oil on canvas, overall: 59 3/16 in x 66 1/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. The Dreier Fund for Acquisitions, 2007.

Currently on display in the Sant Building, Susan Rothenberg’s Three Masks (2006) depicts three theatrical masks, one held by a pair of disembodied mannequin-esque arms rising from a field of white.  Masks have been a popular subject not only for Rothenberg but for a number of artists. Recently, I was tasked with painting my cousin’s pee-wee ice hockey league goalie mask. Here are the steps I took:

  1. Disassemble the mask, removing the cage and all hardware.
  2. Sand the entire surface of the mask using 200, 400, and 600 grit sandpaper. Fill in any imperfections with body filler.
  3. Apply masking tape to the padding, and insert cotton balls into the vent holes to keep the mask’s interior padding intact.
  4. Spray filler primer onto the mask evenly.

    Photos: Sandy Lee

  5. Pencil in the design, and apply paint. In this instance, I chose acrylic paint for its non-reactive properties with the fiberglass of the mask.
  6. Apply clearcoat, polish with polishing compound, and reassemble.

(Left) The helmet in use. (Right) The author taking a shot on the goalie Avery Eng with featured mask. Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Warner.

Luncheon of the Boating Party: The Reality Show

Photos from Elaine and Dick Van Blerkom's scrapbook to commemorate Dick's 1980s birthday themed after the 1880s Luncheon of the Boating Party.

Arguably one of the finest paintings at The Phillips Collection, Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party portrays a lavish gathering of Renoir’s contemporaries and colleagues for a pleasant midday meal. The work is inspiring in its subject matter, its scale, and its technique, so much so that it moved Elaine and Dick Van Blerkom to recreate their own luncheon on the C&O Canal in full period costume (hear about their first encounter with the painting on a first date to the Phillips in 1963 in their “Love Stories” video below).

The Smithsonian’s Food & Think blog has these DIY tips for an idyllic Renoir-inspired luncheon.

By all means, come and study Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party at the Phillips as a guide for your next gathering, but please note, parasols will be checked at the door.

Photographing Inside the Phillips

When photographing works of art inside The Phillips Collection, we kindly ask that you disable the flash feature on your camera. On most cameras, the button bares a symbol of a lightening bolt. Please check with the manufacturer of your particular camera on disabling the flash feature.

By disabling the flash, you’re helping us to preserve the masterpieces within the Collection.  In order to achieve the best images possible, you may have to increase the ISO setting of the camera to compensate for the lack of flash.  Higher ISO settings capture more detail in low light situations, but may also introduce graininess.

Left, photo taken with auto ISO settings. Right, photo taken with ISO 100.

Left, photo taken with ISO 200 setting. Right, photo taken with ISO 800 setting.

Another setting to check is white balance, which accounts for the type of lighting in your scene. This setting allows for accurate color reproduction so that images aren’t too warm (red toned) or cool (blue toned). You can spot these differences in the above photos as well.

I find it’s best to take a few test shots to check for color accuracy. Use the highest ISO setting you can without distorting  the image.

The images above were captured using a standard 5MP cell phone camera.  It’s pretty surprising the amount of control you have over image settings in a cell phone today.

Happy photographing, and enjoy the Collection!

(Photographs above capture stills from choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake featured in the Degas’s Dancers at the Barre exhibition.)