A Bittersweet Meditation: Cocktail Talk with Firefly’s Jon Harris

Rothko Room_Red

(Left) Rothko Room at The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Photo: Max Hirshfeld (Right) Mark Rothko, Orange and Red on Red, 1957. Oil on canvas, 68 7/8 x 66 3/8 in. Acquired 1960, The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

Behind the bar at Firefly in Dupont Circle, Jon Harris is to liquor what Mark Rothko was to paint: a true artist. In celebration of the opening of Made in the USA: American Masters from The Phillips Collection, 1850–1970, Jon Harris has created a one of a kind cocktail for the March 6 Phillips After 5, Mad Museum: The American 60s. His cocktail, the Bittersweet Meditation, is inspired by the post-war Abstract Expressionists and more specifically Mark Rothko’s bold use of color and the tranquil space of the collection’s Rothko Room. We talked with Jon a little about his cocktail, the inspiration, and the connection between cocktails and art.

Cocktail_jon harris

Photo: Stephanie Breijo

Tell us a little about the Bittersweet Meditation cocktail, what is it made with?
It’s made with bourbon, campari, lime, ginger beer, and angostura bitters. Simply pour the bourbon, campari, lime, and ginger beer over ice in a tall glass and dash the top with angostura bitters.

What is the inspiration behind the cocktail?
I was trying to do some color blocking, which is a Rothko thing. The drink has deep hues of red cascading from top to the bottom due to the bitters being dashed on top.

Do you have any thoughts on the connection between art and cocktails?
Drinking cocktails is a precursor to understanding a lot of art. Many artists were/are inebriated regularly in some way. Get on the same level. But otherwise, a thing that a lot of people forget is that drinks (and food, for that matter) are visual arts. You look at it before you smell it and taste it, so it better look good. So you may look to the visual arts to learn how to use color to create moods and effects. You think constantly about how to present things—which type of glass makes the drink look best.

Also, I think about broad strokes and fine strokes a lot, which is derived from painting. Broad stroke drinks use heavy concentrations of several (fairly intense) liquors, whereas fine strokes involves featuring one liquor and small amounts (dashes and spoonfuls) of others to accentuate it. An example of the former would be the negroni, which is equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and campari, all duking it out in one glass. A fine stroke example would be the old fashioned, which features whisky with a simple dash of bitters, a spritz of lemon peel, and a bit of simple syrup to accentuate the whisky.

Jon Harris will join Firefly Chef Todd Wiss for a special cocktail and plate pairing at this Thursday’s Mad Men-themed Phillips After 5.

Staff Show 2013: Julia Kwon

In this series, Young Artists Exhibitions Program Coordinator Emily Bray profiles participants in the 2013 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show. Join us for the Staff Show reception on October 10, from 5:30 to 8 pm!

Julia Kwon’s abstract paintings are inspired by the act of mark-making; she invents new spaces with expressive brushstrokes. She has received many awards, including Joseph S. Lepgold Phi Beta Kappa and the AAUW’s poster competition: Celebrating Women’s Voice in Politics and Art.  She was also selected by the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) for the Integrative Arts Fellowship.

Julia Kwon, Untitled, 2013, Oil on canvas

Julia Kwon, Untitled, 2013, Oil on canvas

What do you do at The Phillips Collection? 

I’m a museum assistant at The Phillips Collection.

Who are your favorite artists in the collection?

My favorite artists are Mark Rothko, Vincent van Gogh, and Richard Diebenkorn. I admire these artists for their clear vision, expressiveness, and emotional content.

What is your favorite gallery space within The Phillips Collection?

My favorite gallery is the Rothko Room. The room’s dim lighting not only adds to the depth and resonance of the colors, but also creates a comforting space for viewers to really experience the art.

What would you like people to know about your art and process?

I take pleasure in being present and making creative decisions.  Mark-making has been my biggest inspiration as it creates a series of actions-and-reactions between me and my paintings.  This state of flux provides opportunities for experimentation and discovery; it allows the paintings to intricately and continuously evolve and expand.  Lyrical, intertwined marks gradually emerge from my belief in continuous growth in life and my realization of the complex interdependence between all things.  Through painting, I create my own story with new meaning and space that not only intrigues me visually, but also moves me internally.

The 2013 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show will be on view September 23, 2013 through October 20, 2013. The show features artwork from Phillips Collection staff.

Emily Bray, Young Artists Exhibitions Program Coordinator

When Does Art Become Multimedia?

Two visitors sit on a bench in the middle of the Rothko Room at the Phillips

Oil on canvas or multimedia? Image: The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Photo: Benjamin Resine

Recent discussions of Bernhard Hildebrandt’s A Conjugation of Verb both here and elsewhere have encouraged me to reconsider the idea of “multimedia” art. The installation is a clear multimedia experience, combining visual art with sound and video to convey meaning. When visiting the exhibition last week, a friend commented that he found the work especially interesting within the context of a collection dominated by more straightforward examples of visual art. His remark prompted me to consider the extent to which many, if not all, pieces of art in the Phillips can actually be seen as multimedia works.

Take, for example, the Rothko Room. Unlike some of the Phillips’s more open galleries, this space is very small and intimate, eliciting silence and contemplation. The layout of the room is also of note; when Rothko visited the Phillips in 1961, he requested that the furniture in the space be limited to a single bench. In this sense, though the four Rothko paintings are remarkable and evocative on their own, the experience of viewing them at the Phillips is inseparable from the experience of inhabiting the gallery itself. The space—from its size and attributes to its ambience and furnishings (or lack thereof)—can be considered not only a vehicle for viewing the medium of art, but a medium itself.

We often don’t consider the ways in which the color of a wall or the lighting of a room affects our interpretation of an artwork. Yet all of these media, though traditionally seen as external to the artwork, form a context inextricably tied to our perceptions. With its carefully mediated spaces, Hildebrandt’s installation seems to make that concept explicit. What experiences have you had when place came together with art?

Marissa Medansky, Director’s Office Intern