Staff Show 2015: Francesca Downs

In this series, Assistant to the Education Department Emily Bray highlights participants in the 2015 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show, on view through October 4, 2015.

Intergalactic Ode, August 2015, Acrylic on canvas

Intergalactic Ode, August 2015, Acrylic on canvas

 

(c) Francesca Downs

(c) Francesca Downs

A native of Washington, DC, Francesca graduated Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore with a Bachelor of Arts in 2011. After graduating, Francesca began taking courses toward a master’s degree in painting at George Washington University. Her artworks are heavily influenced by video games, comic books, and a variety of cartoons such as Arthur, Looney Toons, Dr. Katz, Bob’s Burgers, and King of the Hill. Francesca’s works are whimsical, flat, and combine representational and non-representational subjects. She transforms 3-dimensial objects into solid forms, where shapes and line dominate the space.

What do you do at The Phillips Collection?
I am currently a full-time Control Room Operator for our Security Department. I started out as a Museum Assistant in 2012 and had a brief stint as a part-time Museum Supervisor.

Are there any unique/interesting parts about your job that most people might not know about?
During my control room shift, I play an integral role in helping facilitate art deliveries, controlling access to the museum buildings, and/or assisting visitors. Since nobody can physically see me, it’s almost like it’s happening with magic!

What is your favorite gallery/space within The Phillips Collection?
Joan Miro, Raoul Dufy and Morris Louis are a few of my favorite artists. During my first visit to The Phillips Collection, a Morris Louis show was on display and I fell in love his painting, Seal. My favorite gallery space is probably the larger of two galleries near the courtyard.

What would you like people to know about your artwork on view in the 2014 Staff Show (and/or your work in general)?
I have sort of been out of the painting and drawing game for about 3 years now. When I saw the 2015 Staff Show call for art, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to push myself and churn out a fun, little painting. I do not have a complicated process for creating my art, and most of the good stuff I’ve made was probably made under pressure. My work is fun, funny, or cute; otherwise I won’t do it. The piece I entered was just for fun, a way to dust off the old brushes, and warm up my dominant hand to prepare for new work in the near future. In 2015 (or early 2016), I’ll be launching a new website featuring my latest work.

The 2015 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show is on view September 2 through October 4, 2015. The show features artwork from The Phillips Collection staff. 

Staff Show 2014: Natalie O’Dell

In this series, we profile participants in the 2014 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show.

Natalie O'Dell, Cathedral wall, Bury St Edmunds, 2014, oil on canvas.

Natalie O’Dell, Cathedral wall, Bury St Edmunds, 2014, oil on canvas.

What do you do at The Phillips Collection? Are there any unique or interesting parts about your job that most people might not know about?

I’m a museum assistant and part time supervisor. My colleagues and I in the Security Department are on the floor every day, guiding visitors as they explore the collection as well as ensuring the safety of the artworks on view. We get visitors from all over the world and from a wide variety of backgrounds. The diversity of their perspectives never ceases to amaze me. Over the past year and a half at the Phillips, I have learned quite a lot from our public, refining my own opinions about art and expanding my understanding of the role cultural institutions play in the present and future.

Who is/are your favorite artist/artists in the collection?

The answer to this question is always changing, but for now I would have to say Augustus Vincent Tack. He was an amazing portraitist, but that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Tack’s work is spiritual, mystical, utterly entrancing, and absolutely underrated. He was ahead of his time. On top of all this, he and Duncan Phillips had a wonderful friendship and, as such, Tack played a key role in the early development of The Phillips Collection.

What is your favorite gallery/space within The Phillips Collection?

When we close for the day, I always linger a little in the foyer and parlors of the house. For me, the most compelling aspect of this collection is its link to the unique story of Duncan Phillips and his family. There’s something so wonderful about the idea of truly living with art, and I fear that this concept, though championed by Phillips, has been lost on many of my generation. Nowhere do I feel more connected to the Phillips’s story than in the entryway and living rooms of their family home, a space they ultimately opened to the public in order to share their collection and cultivate an appreciation of art in others.

What would you like people to know about your artwork on view in the 2014 Staff Show (i.e. subject matter, materials, process, etc)?

My work for this year’s staff show depicts a cathedral wall in Bury St Edmunds, England. Bury is a beautiful town with a fascinating history, but I must confess I harbor a particular fondness for it because it is where my husband and I honeymooned. Though the wall is part of what is now considered a very grand building, it was at one time only a small segment of a huge complex of religious buildings that dates back to the 10th century.

When I first saw the wall I was immediately drawn to the way its surface weathering revealed its unique history. Over its many centuries of existence, the wall was changed by both human and natural forces, yet it still remains today. Indeed, its enduring presence is a testament to the permanence of the institution it houses. In painting the wall, I wanted my technique to mimic the actual process of weathering. I used successive layers of very thin paint that I allowed to drip down the canvas surface naturally while it was positioned vertically. For the floral foreground and the mold growth on the wall, I used looser brushwork, thicker paint application, and a more impressionistic technique to emphasize the difference between these transitory natural elements and the permanence of the wall behind them.

Both in selecting this painting’s subject matter and over the course of creating it, I kept the dialogue between two and three-dimensional space in mind. Representational art has historically been tied to the process of collapsing real, three-dimensional space into a fundamentally two-dimensional picture plane (which is itself presumably to be perceived as three-dimensional by the viewer). I have always been interested in this dialogue and I hope the tension between different kinds of space is highlighted by this painting’s subject.

The 2014 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show will be on view December 16, 2014 through January 19, 2015. The show features artwork from Phillips Collection staff.

Staff Show 2014: Nancy Libson

In this series, we profile participants in the 2014 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show.

Nancy Lisbon, Untitled #7, 2014, photograph

Nancy Libson, Untitled #7, 2014, photograph

What do you do at The Phillips Collection?  Are there any unique/interesting parts about your job that most people might not know about?

I’m a Gallery Educator. I really enjoy learning about the artists in the permanent collection and special exhibitions, preparing, and then leading tours. I find this process such a great and fun way to learn. I also love talking about art and hearing what visitors have to say on the tours. The art inspires me. I feel very connected to the work as I walk around the galleries and I often get ideas for photo projects and teaching projects (I teach art and photography as well outside of the Phillips).

Who is/are your favorite artist/artists in the collection?

I don’t really have one favorite artist… I have many.  I have learned a lot from Jacob Lawrence and his Migration Series since his work relates to what I do as a photographer. My work is mostly documentary and still photography, and often an artist can teach me a lot by really getting to know their work. I have come to know the Migration Series quite well and feel a connection to Jacob Lawrence’s journey on many levels!

What would you like people to know about your artwork on view in the Staff Show (or your work in general)?

I love to photograph people and places. This photo is a part of a series.

Where else have you exhibited your work?

My photography has been exhibited nationally, internationally and in private collections, including The Library of Congress. I’ve had solo exhibits at the Harvard University Fogg Art Museum and Arlington Arts Center and group exhibits at The Embassy of Japan and Galerie Benezet in Avignon, France. I’ve worked as a freelance photographer for the National Geographic Traveler and a variety of non-profit agencies.

The 2014 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show will be on view December 16, 2014 through January 19, 2015. The show features artwork from Phillips Collection staff.