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. 

The Artist Sees Differently: Sandy Lee

Sandy Lee, IT support specialist

Sandy Lee in front of his home display, “iconic 41,” 12 paintings for his wife’s recent birthday. Photo: Lisa Hasegawa

Were you an artist before you started to work at the Phillips, and how did you learn about the Phillips?

My father was the print shop manager for the US Catholic Conference, now the United Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Growing up, I had TONS of paper and pencils available as well as a light table for tracing my favorite images.  If you’ve seen the movie Seven Pounds there’s a printing press featured that was the same model my dad had in our basement.  I typeset my own business cards at the age of 12 (I think I was the only 6th grader with lead-type business cards, “Sandy Lee Artist-for-Hire”!) and in my teens began airbrushing t-shirts in high school.  I studied Art Studio at the University of Maryland College Park focusing on illustration.  I only learned about The Phillips Collection a few years ago when applying for the position of IT Support Specialist.

Do you feel you are inspired by the Phillips?

Absolutely.  This facility, and its rise from near disaster make me grateful that such a place still exists.  The works within still amaze me–it seems there’s always something new hanging from week to week.  I find myself going to more and more museums and evaluating them against the Phillips.  It’s such a great venue in which to view masterpieces. It really is inviting and personable.  After a near 20 year hiatus from painting, I decided to pick up the brush last year and produce the 12 canvases in the photo for my wife’s 41st birthday present.  We were both surprised.

What do you listen to as you paint?

Lady Gaga, metal, movie soundtracks, even podcasts of Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!.

Who’s your favorite artist in the collection?

Raoul Dufy.  His paintings remind me of the backgrounds painted by Philip DeGuard for the Looney Tunes Pepe le Pew cartoons!  Very whimsical and vibrant.

Do you collect other artwork – or anything?

I have a few lithographs, tons of comic books, and the Spectrum series of fantasy art annuals.  That all started with an inadvertent trip to the Society of Illustrators museum in New York City.

What’s your favorite Marjorie Phillips painting?

My favorite Marjorie painting is Night Baseball(1951). You can tell by looking at it how much she loved the sport.  I’m foremost an ice hockey player and fan, but I give full credit to women who appreciate sports.

-Rolf Rykken