Horace Pippin’s “Domino Players”

Horace Pippin "Domino Players" 1943, Oil on composition board, 12 3/4 x 22 in.; Acquired 1943

Horace Pippin, Domino Players, 1943, Oil on composition board, 12 3/4 x 22 in., The Phillips Collection, Acquired 1943

Horace Pippin, a self-taught African American painter, was born February 22, 1888 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. At the age of three Pippin moved with his family to Goshen, New York, where he attended a segregated one-room school. When he was ten years old, he answered a magazine advertisement and received a box of crayons, paint, and two brushes in the mail. Later moving to Paterson, New Jersey and then enlisting in the army, Pippin spent a few years working and serving in the First World War. He was seriously wounded in the war and was left with a crippled right arm. He returned to West Chester, was married, and by 1931 produced a painting about the war which provided him with a therapeutic outlet for his experiences and became the catalyst for his career.

In the 1943 painting Domino Players, Pippin captured the mood of long quiet hours of childhood Sundays. The painting stands out for its emphasis of the family group, whose members loom larger and appear more united and intimate than in any other Pippin interior. The painting was first shown at The Pyramid Club in Philadelphia, where it won first prize. Shortly after acquiring the painting, Duncan Phillips wrote to Edith Halpert of the Downtown Gallery in New York: “The (purchase of the) Pippin Domino Players is certainly no mistake and in this case the wisdom of my immediate decision was confirmed on receipt of the picture.”

The Phillips Collects: Sam Gilliam (Part II)

Sam Gilliam, "Red Petals" American, 1967, Acrylic on canvas, 88 x 93 in., Acquired 1967.

Sam Gilliam, Red Petals, 1967, Acrylic on canvas, 88 x 93 in., The Phillips Collection, Acquired 1967

Red Petals is among the first paintings in which Gilliam poured paint onto an unprimed and unstretched canvas, folded the canvas onto itself, suspended it, and left the paint to settle overnight. The next day he sponged, daubed, splattered, folded, rolled, and then restretched the canvas. Gilliam describes this delicate balance between improvisation and discipline as “a sort of accident, a part that I controlled, and then a part that I didn’t control, a part that I set into motion.” The emotional intensity and expressionistic force of Red Petals partly derives from this careful manipulation and the tension between chance and control.

As a leading artist of the Color Field movement, Gilliam used color as the ultimate form of expression. In Red Petals, cadmium red and bright coral explode off the canvas. This painting was the first where Gilliam did not clearly define his edges with masking tape; the red bleeds into the violet-black, green, yellow and cobalt blue, pulsating with luminosity.

Although Gilliam had experimented with spontaneous methods, he now trusted gravity to shape biomorphic rather than geometric forms. Gilliam observed that “the natural environment, wind, and the like, gives life to cloth. Cloth has no particular characteristic unless you give life to it.” Red Petals, although ultimately mounted on a stretcher, represents Gilliam’s first step toward this revolutionary reinterpretation of the role of canvas: it becomes a medium, not the support, and therefore is as important as acrylic or oil.

According to Gilliam, abstraction gives him a freedom—denied to the realistic painter—to communicate with the viewer by tapping into emotions at a deep, visceral level. He remarked, “Petals is…when I first really felt that I was getting somewhere on my own; beginning to see and unfold…and not to imitate all the paintings I had seen in Washington.”

Conserving Pierre Bourdelle’s “Bird” (Part II)

This two-part blog post is by Jen Munch, former intern in The Phillips Collection’s Conservation department and current Graduate Fellow in Art Conservation at SUNY Buffalo State. Read Part I here.

Later renovations and expansions required the sculpture’s deinstallation and relocation. During one deinstallation in 1987, the heavy stone sculpture was damaged at two locations along the slab’s bottom edge, where small sections of the stone were chipped away. In 1989, conservators repaired the sculpture by filling the two losses with chips of stone from the back of the artwork, plus an epoxy material that matched the colors of the grey and pink slab. Over time, the epoxy’s colors faded to beige, due to the strong sunlight that this artwork is exposed to. In 2004-5, the faded fills were replaced with new epoxy fills, with the goal of better matching the color of the surrounding stone. By the summer of 2017, the “new” fills again had faded to beige [fig.7, 8].

Figure 7, Before treatment, 2017. The discolored fills are circled.

Figure 7: Before treatment, 2017. The discolored fills are circled.

Figure 8: Before treatment, 2017. The discolored fills are circled.

The aging effects of sunlight are well known and documented. Just as the sun can damage your skin or the fabric of a sofa placed near a window, the sun’s rays can degrade many pigments. Ultraviolet rays are the most damaging, but visible light will also cause some degree of damage.

In 2017, the epoxy fills were still structurally stable but their beige color no longer matched the surrounding stone. The fills were visible and distracting. On one warm August day in 2017 [fig. 9], I spent the afternoon “in-painting” the beige epoxy to make it match the surrounding area. I applied small amounts of special conservation-grade paints atop the epoxy. The paints I used have good aging properties, but they, too, will eventually fade and need to be replaced. The work I did, and the materials I used, are documented with both written reports and photography, taken before and after treatment [fig. 10]. This information will be valuable to the next conservator who has to treat this artwork, just as the reports from the 1989 and 2004-5 treatments were helpful to me.

The author performing a conservation treatment on Bird by Pierre Bourdelle. Photo: Kim Sandara

Figure 9: The author performing a conservation treatment on Bird by Pierre Bourdelle. Photo: Kim Sandara

I enjoyed working on this sculpture and getting to learn about its history. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that this beautiful bird was custom-made for the Phillips and is a work of art, not just a logo. I hope you have enjoyed reading about this artwork, and will look for the bird the next time you visit The Phillips Collection.

Figure 9, After treatment, 2017. The epoxy fills have been in-painted to match the stone.

Figure 10: After treatment, 2017. The epoxy fills have been in-painted to match the stone.