Staff Show 2014: Natalie O’Dell

In this series, we profile participants in the 2014 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show.

Natalie O'Dell, Cathedral wall, Bury St Edmunds, 2014, oil on canvas.

Natalie O’Dell, Cathedral wall, Bury St Edmunds, 2014, oil on canvas.

What do you do at The Phillips Collection? Are there any unique or interesting parts about your job that most people might not know about?

I’m a museum assistant and part time supervisor. My colleagues and I in the Security Department are on the floor every day, guiding visitors as they explore the collection as well as ensuring the safety of the artworks on view. We get visitors from all over the world and from a wide variety of backgrounds. The diversity of their perspectives never ceases to amaze me. Over the past year and a half at the Phillips, I have learned quite a lot from our public, refining my own opinions about art and expanding my understanding of the role cultural institutions play in the present and future.

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

The answer to this question is always changing, but for now I would have to say Augustus Vincent Tack. He was an amazing portraitist, but that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Tack’s work is spiritual, mystical, utterly entrancing, and absolutely underrated. He was ahead of his time. On top of all this, he and Duncan Phillips had a wonderful friendship and, as such, Tack played a key role in the early development of The Phillips Collection.

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

When we close for the day, I always linger a little in the foyer and parlors of the house. For me, the most compelling aspect of this collection is its link to the unique story of Duncan Phillips and his family. There’s something so wonderful about the idea of truly living with art, and I fear that this concept, though championed by Phillips, has been lost on many of my generation. Nowhere do I feel more connected to the Phillips’s story than in the entryway and living rooms of their family home, a space they ultimately opened to the public in order to share their collection and cultivate an appreciation of art in others.

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

My work for this year’s staff show depicts a cathedral wall in Bury St Edmunds, England. Bury is a beautiful town with a fascinating history, but I must confess I harbor a particular fondness for it because it is where my husband and I honeymooned. Though the wall is part of what is now considered a very grand building, it was at one time only a small segment of a huge complex of religious buildings that dates back to the 10th century.

When I first saw the wall I was immediately drawn to the way its surface weathering revealed its unique history. Over its many centuries of existence, the wall was changed by both human and natural forces, yet it still remains today. Indeed, its enduring presence is a testament to the permanence of the institution it houses. In painting the wall, I wanted my technique to mimic the actual process of weathering. I used successive layers of very thin paint that I allowed to drip down the canvas surface naturally while it was positioned vertically. For the floral foreground and the mold growth on the wall, I used looser brushwork, thicker paint application, and a more impressionistic technique to emphasize the difference between these transitory natural elements and the permanence of the wall behind them.

Both in selecting this painting’s subject matter and over the course of creating it, I kept the dialogue between two and three-dimensional space in mind. Representational art has historically been tied to the process of collapsing real, three-dimensional space into a fundamentally two-dimensional picture plane (which is itself presumably to be perceived as three-dimensional by the viewer). I have always been interested in this dialogue and I hope the tension between different kinds of space is highlighted by this painting’s subject.

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.

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