Two Sides of One Painter

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Installation view of Jake Berthot: From the Permanent Collection and Promised Gifts

Bold shades of yellow screamed out from the canvas, with each layer striving to grab my attention. The densely built up surfaces of abstract forms projected into my space, to the extent that the paintings themselves became three-dimensional. The expressive texture and spontaneity in Jake Berthot’s Yellow/Yellow were enough to captivate me, along with his other equally dynamic paintings displayed throughout the gallery.

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Jake Berthot, Untitled (Trees), 1996

I entered the next gallery just as I started to feel overwhelmed by the intense emotions I read in his rough impasto techniques. This room, where his later works are displayed, offered a completely different atmosphere; instead of the highly expressive brushstrokes and abstract forms seen in the previous gallery, the paintings here were strikingly calm, devoid of any saturated colors.

In his later years, Berthot mostly depicted landscapes, focusing on proportion and perspective. His sketches are filled with grids exploring the geometry behind the natural landscape; it’s almost as if the artist had never been interested in abstract expressions like the ones seen in his previous works.

Walking around this gallery made me feel like I was stealing into the artist’s working studio while he left for a break; many of the works seem unfinished. In Untitled (Trees), underlying pencil grids are visible, drawing a stark contrast with the way nature is depicted in Pond, an earlier work by Berthot displayed in the previous gallery.

Why do his works look so different? Did he develop a sudden interest in ratio and perspective in his later years?

Berthot mentioned stylistic changes in an interview in 2013: “Young painters now know me as a representational painter. Many of my peers wonder what happened to the abstract painter. No matter what, I am still the same painter.”

Do you see the connection? What makes him “the same painter” despite the apparent stylistic differences?

Summer Park, Marketing & Communications Intern

Jake Berthot: From the Collection and Promised Gifts is on view through April 2, 2017.

Porchia Moore Phillips Conversation

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Porchia Moore leads a discussion in the “People on the Move: Beauty and Struggle in Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series” galleries. All photos: Laura Hoffman

How do works in special exhibitions People on the Move: Beauty and Struggle in Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Whitfield Lovell: The Kin Series and Related Works relate to current issues of racial injustice and discrimination? Porchia Moore visited the Phillips in November to tackle this question with Phillips visitors. See below for photos and a live-tweet of the conversation.

This was the second in a series of three open conversations that use The Migration Series as a jumping off point for discussions about current issues; join us for the third installment this Thursday with the DC Jazz Festival’s Sunny Sumter, who will be facilitating a discussion focuses on themes of identity, community, and what it means to be an American. See the storify of last month’s talk below. Follow along or join the conversation with #PhillipsConversation.

 

Whitfield Lovell’s Cage

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Whitfield Lovell, Cage, 2001. Charcoal on wood and found objects. Collection of Julia J. Norrell. Courtesy DC Moore Gallery © Whitfield Lovell and DC Moore Gallery, New York

I know why the caged bird sings . . .
–Maya Angelou, “Caged Bird,” 1983

The first act of liberation is to destroy one’s cage.
–Michael S. Harper, poet, 1977

From the front, the cage attached to the lower body of this drawn woman could be associated with the shape of a dress, perhaps even as an indirect reference to the cage-like construction of garments such as 19th-century crinolines. Yet from the side, the cage extends out and becomes suggestive of a pregnant womb. It is harmoniously married to her frame, yet it simultaneously traps her. The contradiction speaks to the uneven treatment women historically have received, being at once matriarchs in the domestic sphere and victims of subjugation and inequality in the public one.

Whitfield Lovell: The Kin Series and Related Works is on view through Jan. 8, 2017.