Eye to Eye with Pollen and Egg Yolk

Joseph Marioni, Yellow Painting, 2003, No. 9. Acrylic and linen on stretcher 36 x 34 in. Photo: Charles Abdoo

On a recent Spotlight Tour, Joseph Marioni’s bright canvases left many in the group cold. Responses ranged from a resolute “not interested” to a searching, “what do they add to the history of art?” Gallery Educator Alice Shih pointed out that, for some, Joseph Marioni‘s paintings may be best brought into focus by the work of other artists hanging nearby. Alice pointed out sight lines from Marioni to Matisse, to Kandinsky, and along a river of blues and pinks in Gene Davis, to Morris Louis, Adolph Gottlieb, diving into two deep blue Marionis a few galleries beyond.

Alice built further context through metaphor. She told us that the feeling of “egg yolk” pops into her head when she looks at a particular yellow painting by Marioni. (I see pollen, which leads me to the work of another artist recently at the  Phillips).

Later I asked Alice if this kind of color association happens for her with other works by Marioni. She shared this list:

*Red Painting (2002): lava

*Yellow Painting, (2011): the song Good Day Sunshine by The Beatles

*Blue Painting (1995): the night sky (it has spotty moments when it could seem like stars)

Joseph Marioni, Blue Painting, 1995, No. 26. Acrylic and linen on stretcher 28 x 24 in. Photo: Nicholas Walster

Does Marioni’s work bring up particular memories, sensations, references, or metaphors for you? Please comment and let us know.

Cecilia Wichmann, Publicity and Marketing Manager

Helen Frankenthaler, 1928-2011

Helen Frankenthaler, Canyon, 1965. Acrylic on canvas, 44 x 52 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. The Dreier Fund for Acquisitions and funds given by Gifford Phillips, 2001.

Abstract painter Helen Frankenthaler has died in Connecticut at the age of 83. Her painting, Canyon, 1965, is a favorite here at the Phillips and often on display. The canvas is stained by rich pools of poured paint, a method that would be adopted by other fellow members of the abstract expressionist movement. During a powerfully inspirational visit to Frankenthaler’s New York studio in April of 1953, Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland saw her painting Mountains and Sea (1952) and were deeply moved by her inventive use of color and paint, bringing back techniques that would serve as the foundation of the Washington Color School painters. As quoted in Gerald Nordland’s essay, “Washington Color Painters: the first generation,” Louis said, “[Frankenthaler] showed us a way to think about and use color . . . She was a bridge between [Jackson] Pollock and what was possible.”

A Guided Visit with Morris Louis’s Seal (1959)


Seal (1959) by Morris Louis is a recent gift to the Phillips from the Marcella Brenner Revocable Trust. To celebrate the painting’s installation, National Gallery of Art Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Harry Cooper spoke at the Phillips in September, considering the artist’s technique and aesthetics. Learn more about the picture and Louis’s process through these excerpts from the talk.