Being An Artist at The Phillips Collection

Matisse_studio quai

Henri Matisse, Studio, Quai Saint-Michel, 1916. Oil on canvas, 58 1/4 x 46 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1940.

What is it like to be an artist working at The Phillips Collection? I tackle this question not because I claim to be an artist—far from it, in fact; I see myself more as a cultural sociologist than an artist—but because over the last month or so of working here, I have been inspired to create more than ever before. More to the point, over the next few weeks, the Phillips is exhibiting works by artists employed at the museum and I wanted to take a moment to think about how we are all affected by working amongst great art.

It is a traditionally held dictate that visitors to a museum shall passively engage with the art. Walk up to it silently, contemplate subject and color for a moment, then move on to the next piece. Here at the Phillips, however, the environment is such that one cannot help but become intimately attached to the works hanging on the walls. They become old friends, and we move from passive engagement to something more ambiguous and often awkwardly articulated. The works of art become inspiration. They pop up in dreams and motifs in our own work. Moreover, most of the museum guards have an artistic bent which allows for conversation about and active engagement with the art, and who among us does not feel a tinge of joy when we come across the many troops of school children discussing pieces and creating their own art in response? Personally, I have become obsessed with Henri Matisse’s Studio, Quai Saint-Michel. It is currently on view on the second floor of the original Phillips house in a small gallery just past Renoir’s Luncheon of the Booting Party. The painting’s size in this room makes it imposing and all consuming. It is as if you are transported into that studio space with its soft light. It has sparked in my work a new interest in color and pattern, as well as an impulse to incorporate other art forms such as music into my otherwise purely visual creations.

It is impossible to remain passive in a museum like the Phillips. You are constantly confronting works in a personal way and they in turn intimately confront you. Being an artist working here is like gaining the ability of osmosis as the creative urge seeps into your veins. All I can say is, after a day’s work within this museum, I cannot wait to get back to my canvas and paints.

Dominique Lopes, Director’s Office Intern

 

Staff Show 2014: Emily Francisco

In this series, Assistant to the Education Department Emily Bray profiles participants in the 2014 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show.

Emily Francisco is a sculptress specializing in the creation of interactive objects that generate sound. Born in Honolulu, raised in an isolated mid-western town, educated in Saint Louis and the District of Columbia—she is a former Artist in Residence at Artisphere, and will be in Residence at Montgomery College starting in January of 2015. She kicked off Flashpoint Gallery’s 2014-2015 season with a solo exhibition titled Something Slightly Familiar, and lectured at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art as part of the Luce Foundation Center’s Art + Coffee Series. She was also a Visiting Artist and Guest Lecturer at Webster University in Saint Louis as part of the Sculpture City 2014 initiative. Emily recently participated in Transformer Gallery’s Exercises for Emerging Artists Program, contributing work for the Coda of Fermata, the region’s largest exhibition dedicated entirely to sound. She currently lives and works in the DC area.

Emily Francisco, Nevermore, 2014, archival ink on paper

Emily Francisco, Nevermore, 2014, archival ink on paper

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 am a Museum and Audio Visual Assistant. When I am not guarding the collection or setting up audio and visual technical support for events, I am working on digitizing the media archives within the museum’s library.

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

As a sculptress and installation artist, I always root for the object/environment makers. While I enjoy the museum’s collection of Calder mobiles and various bronze sculptures, the Laib Wax Room is my favorite part of the collection. Although Bernardi Roig’s Intersections pieces are not part of the permanent collection, I will be sad to see them all go, especially An Illuminated Head for Blinky P. (The Gun).

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

I had read a number of essays by Joseph Beuys throughout my preliminary education in art, so I was naturally drawn to the Laib Wax Room when I started working for the Phillips. I visit the Wax Room during the quiet times in the galleries. The galleries located within Phillips’s original house are also some of my favorite spaces in the building.

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

A widow had delivered a grand piano to my studio. She wanted her husband’s piano to become something new—I accepted the challenge. I have always considered objects to be more than what they are made of, so by accepting her husband’s piano, it felt as if I had agreed to serve as a mediator of mourning. In considering the metaphorical weight of sentimental objects, I frequently render somewhat fantastical situations. Ravens are often depicted as mediators between life and death, which is why I chose to illustrate a flock, collectively, transporting an enormous weight through the sky.

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 Sneak Peek

Sue Ahn, The Luncheon of the TPC party (detail), 2014, color pencil

Sue Ahn, The Luncheon of the TPC party (detail), 2014, color pencil

 

We are in the midst of installing this year’s James McLaughlin Memorial Staff show, but here’s a sneak peek. Can you guess which painting from our collection inspired Museum Assistant Sue Ahn’s own work at left?

It’s Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s painting, Luncheon of the Boating Party!

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.