Luxuriating in August

Phillips Educator Carla Freyvogel reflects on a gallery filled with works that aren’t quite ready to let go of summer.

August: when the inbox is filled with back-to-school specials and parents are frantically buying graph paper. Every once and a while, you’ll see a leaf on the sidewalk with a hint of gold. The clash of football helmets in pre-season practice permeates the air. Periodically, the summer humidity lifts and the night air is cool. All of this is to tell us: “Get on with it! Let’s get ready for Thanksgiving!”

Not at The Phillips Collection. A small gallery in the Phillips House beckons us to luxuriate in August. It inspires us to narrow our eyes and look at those hauling back-to-school cargo and say: “You are missing it! August is the real summer, baby!”

Philips House Gallery F, north and west walls, left to right: Georgia O’Keeffe, Red Hills, Lake George, 1927, Oil on canvas, 27 x 32 in, Acquired 1945; Milton Avery, Black Sea, 1959, Oil on canvas 50 x 67 3/4 in., Acquired 1965

Phillips House Gallery F, south and east walls, left to right: Amy Cutler, Passage, 2001, Casein tempera and Flashe on wood panel 11 5/8 x 12 in., Gift of Heather Podesta, 2018; David Hare, Mountain Night, 1969, Acrylic with paper collage on canvas 53 1/2 x 69 1/2 in., Acquired 1969; Arthur G. Dove, Lake Afternoon, 1935, Wax emulsion on canvas 25 x 35 in., Acquired 1947; John D. Graham, Mysteria 2, 1927, Oil on canvas, 18 1/8 x 22 in., Acquired 1927

Take Milton Avery: his Black Sea gives us the sense that the sun is a bit lower, yes, but out here in Provincetown, the tide still ebbs and flows. The surf gently washes us out and about and we languidly paddle into the shorter days with a steady calm.

With David Hare’s Mountain Light and John Graham’s Mysteria 2, we see inky saturated blues. Hare explores the distant vistas that present as stark forms. What do you think? Has his mountain view lost the modulations of July color now that August is here? What about John Graham? His horses do not frolic in scorching heat, their tails swatting away the horseflies. They are indoors and night has fallen. Perhaps their performance in the show ring was cut short due to the loss of sunlight. They welcome the cooler indoor air, overseen by an enigmatic figure in the background.

Friends Arthur Dove and Georgia O’Keeffe did not bear the full brunt of sticky July, being based in Upstate New York. Imagine the refreshing breeze that came off Seneca Lake, as Dove’s strange deer-creatures wink at each other while enjoying the aimlessness of August that precedes the fervor of rutting season! The sun of O’Keeffe’s Red Hills, Lake George provides enough of a humming warm glow that while staring at it, you are good without a sweater.

What do you make of your last weeks of summer? What images, colors, and sensations give you that assurance that while the calendar unfolds, you are can still luxuriate in the richness of August?

If you need encouragement, take a look at Amy Cutler’s Passage. The red light does not appear to be lit. Our stout matron gives us the green light to enjoy the last month of summer. It does seem that the yellow light is saying, “Slow down, don’t let your focus be on that next thing, September. It is August! Jump on a boat, make your passage, and chug through my skirts to still-green pastures—I will hold your cat while you do!”