Staff Show 2024: Jeff Whitelow

Meet some of the talented artists on The Phillips Collection’s staff, whose works are in the 2023 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show (on view through February 16, 2024).

Museum Assistant Jeff Whitelow, who is also part of the museum’s AV team, shares the pivotal influence of The Phillips Collection on his piece Werk N Flux in the Staff Show.

Jeff Whitelow, Werk N Flux, Photograph

There are three works from the collection that directly influenced Werk N Flux: Aaron Siskind’s Martha’s Vineyard 107B, 1954, Alma Thomas’s Breeze Rustling Through Fall Flowers, 1968, and Irene Rice Pereira’s Transversion, 1946.

Aaron Siskind, Martha’s Vineyard 107 B, 1954/printed ca.1980-1984, Gelatin silver print, 36 x 50 in., The Phillips Collection, Gift of the Phillips Contemporaries, 2003

I first noticed Siskind’s work when The Phillips Collection had the exhibition Aaron Siskind New Relationships in Photography in 2004. Siskind started out doing pretty much straight forward black-and-white documentary style photography of street scenes but gradually turned toward abstraction under the influence of the New York school of Abstract Expressionism. I, too, started out with photographing street scenes using black-and-white film. What influenced me from this work is his close-ups emphasizing textures of decaying walls in the city and painterly patterns he would get in his pictures. I also was inspired by how this hyper-focus on details led to a new image independent of the initial starting point. This work showed me how to zero in on surface textures in a creative way. As of this writing Martha’s Vineyard isn’t hanging in the galleries but is on permanent display magnetically on my refrigerator door and temporarily displayed as background wallpaper on my laptop.

"Breeze Rustling Through Fall Flowers", Alma Thomas (1891-1978), 1968, Acrylic on canvas

Alma Thomas, Breeze Rustling Through Fall Flowers, 1968, Acrylic on canvas 57 7/8 x 50 in., The Phillips Collection, Gift of Franz Bader, 1976

The second work is Alma Thomas’s Breeze Rustling Through Fall Flowers. A number of people have pointed out to me similarities between Alma Thomas’s work and my piece for the staff show. What attracts me to her is her vibrant use of color which seems to be the opposite of what Siskind was doing. I’ve been exposed to her work the longest. I first saw her work when I was a teenager at GWU’s Dimock Gallery. I can definitely relate to her abstractions of the world around her as a means of self- expression. I also enjoy her use of mosaic like patterns in this work.

Irene Rice Pereira, Transversion, 1946, Ceramic fluid, porcelain cement, oil paint on two planes of corrugated glass mounted on hardboard and wood, 13 1/2 x 15 3/4 in., The Phillips Collection, Acquired 1949

Last but not least is Irene Rice Pereira’s Transversion. This is more of a technical influence due to this work being made on glass. I find the layering of images pretty captivating. Right now I’m having my photographic images printed onto glass with no matting or framing allowing the work to operate on a sculptural level as well as simplifying the display process. This work opened up options to me about display and presentation. The art in the collection is a continual influence.