The Delicate Balance: Happy Valentine’s Day

Sam Gilliam_Red Petals

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

Read in the context of today’s holiday, the description of this piece on our website struck me as especially poignant:

“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.”

Amy Wike, Marketing Manager

Dupont in Detail: All Roads Lead to the Phillips

Washington, D.C., has always been a great city for walkers–rich with monuments, parks and circles, streets wending gracefully from one vibrant neighborhood to the next. It should come as no surprise that in 2011, Washington was ranked in the top ten most walkable cities in the United States, (seventh), with the Dupont Circle neighborhood coming in as its most walkable neighborhood. For countless people, both in and out of Washington, The Phillips Collection is one of Dupont Circle’s highlights, and for many of us who work at the Phillips, the walk to work through the manifold seasons of the year is a beautiful way to start the day. The walks are varied, both in topography and timbre, provenance and pace.

My days begin with the sun illuminating the tall chimney of Garnet-Patterson Middle School and glancing off the windows of Duffy’s Irish Tavern below. At this time of year, the new cold air paints the sky in morning’s amaranthine waves. I walk the first block down Vermont Avenue and turn right onto U Street, where art abounds in many forms.

Photos: Martín Paddack

Photos: Martín Paddack

The U Street neighborhood is nearly as alive in the morning as it is at night. Duke Ellington grew up here, and I often think of him along this walk and how everyone’s syncopated footfalls, strides, and toe-taps at the corners could play counterpoint to his music. There is a nice mural of Duke Ellington by Byron Peck on the west face of the True Reformer building on U Street, where Duke Ellington had his first paid performance. Across the street, I pass Ben’s Chili Bowl, already filling with customers at the early hour and sometimes snap a picture or two for a tourist. Then it’s past the famed Lincoln Theater to the corner of 13th and U. Here I always glance to the right to admire the peaked rooftops of the old Victorian homes that colorfully line 13th Street.

Continue reading “Dupont in Detail: All Roads Lead to the Phillips” »

Rockne Krebs, 1938-2011

Though the obituary for Washington artist Rockne Krebs does not mention The Phillips Collection, the museum does own one of his works. It is not a laser light sculpture, but a freestanding chevron of Plexiglas, over five feet tall, titled No Land (1966). It was a gift of artist Sam Gilliam, his friend and former studio partner. Here is an excellent photo of the two of them together by photographer Carol Harrison:

Rockne Krebs and Sam Gilliam, 1984. Photo: Carol Harrison. Used by permission.

Rockne Krebs, No Land, 1966, Plexiglas, 66 1/2" high. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Gift of Sam Gilliam, 1980.

No Land hasn’t been on view for a good number of years. It has bands of color with a clear area in the middle where one can see through the sculpture. It changes as one looks at it. Sometimes it looks as if color came out of the ground, made a sharp angled turn (like a light beam bouncing off a mirror), then went back into the floor. Other times, it looks like a mountain. Influenced by Washington Color School painters, Krebs made something solid yet transparent, and not at all dependent on canvas or even a wall to hang it on. From this he went on to work primarily with light. One can see a hint of his light works in No Land, as he begins to give color its freedom.

Click here for more of Carol Harrison’s photos, featuring Washington D.C. artists.

To read an interview with Sam Gilliam that discusses Rockne Krebs, their work, artists’ community, and relationship, see this 1989 oral history transcript at the Archives of American Art.

Ianthe Gergel, Museum Assistant