The Artist Sees Differently: Rolf Rykken

In this special edition of The Artist Sees Differently, contributor Paul Ruther turns the tables on the column’s creator Rolf Rykken, who is himself an artist on staff. 

Rolf Rykken, Museum Assistant

Photo of Rolf with Sammie, his "doggie daughter" and muse. Photo: Sarah Osborne Bender

Rolf with Sammie, his “doggie daughter” and muse. Photo: Sarah Osborne Bender

Where did you get the idea to interview Phillips Collection employees about their artistic practice and ideas?

It was Sarah’s [Osborne Bender]  idea. I liked it and thought it was both fun and funny. It was my idea to ask everyone what their favorite Marjorie Phillips painting is. Not everyone knows who she is.

Do you feel you are inspired by the Phillips art?

Yes. When I was in the MFA program at University of Maryland, one of the professors said I was “Too much under the influence of The Phillips Collection,” as if that was a bad thing.  Also being here influenced me to take art classes, and I eventually got into the Corcoran College of Art and Design, graduating with a BFA in 1997.

I remember when I first came here in junior high school,  I was amazed and impressed by the place. It was just the house then. But it’s the first museum I remember visiting.

What do you listen to as you create?

Mixes from my iPod touch, mostly alt-rock from the ’90s. I like female rock bands. Lately I’ve been listening to a band named Screaming Females, which is funny because it’s only one woman, Marissa Paternoster, but she makes enough noise for a whole band. I saw her and the band at the Black Cat recently.

Who’s your favorite artist in the collection?

Oh it’s Bonnard, and my favorite work of his is Open Window. I also like The Palm because someone once made me a present of the painting with my dog Shelby transposed over the lady in the painting. Bonnard’s model for this work was his wife Marthe.

Rolf Rykken, Family in the Park, 1998. Oil on wood, 24" x 24 1/2"

Rolf Rykken, Family in the Park, 1998. Oil on wood, 24″ x 24 1/2″

Do you collect other artwork – or anything?

I have works by Jake Muirhead, who used to work here, now teaches at Montgomery College. I want a Suzanne Koch and I own some works by Ianthe Gergel.

And do you have a favorite Marjorie Phillips painting?

Nuns on the Roof. I also did a version called Dogs on the Roof once.

Phillips Petting Zoo: Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin, The Ham, 1889. Oil on canvas, 19 3/4 x 22 3/4 in. The Phillips Collection. Acquired 1951. Photo: Claire Norman

This is a series is about animals, but no, this is not a post about the pig from which The Ham is derived . . .

Notice near the rim of the café table Gauguin signed the work “P GO”. The artist often abbreviated his signature with these initials and when you say “P GO” in French, it sounds indistinguishable from its homophone, “pego,” nautical slang for penis. This double entendre wouldn’t have been lost on Gauguin; he spent six years in the French merchant navy. On her blog, Tate Curator Christine Riding discusses how the museum almost called a children’s book on birds and animals in Gauguin’s art “P GO” until someone pointed out the name’s indelicate connotation.

Paul Gauguin, The Ham (detail), 1889. Oil on canvas, 19 3/4 x 22 3/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1951. Photo: Claire Norman

In 1901 Gauguin settled on Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands, and there he acquired a little dog he named “Pego.” Perhaps that’s him in lower right corner of the late painting, Marquesan Man in a Red Cape, although Gauguin painted many dogs throughout his career, including these adorable puppies.

In 1998 June Hargrove, my graduate school advisor, met Pego’s descendant pictured below; he lived on the grounds of the Gauguin Museum in Mataiea, Tahiti. The director of the museum told her that in the 1960s a scholar researching Gauguin received a canine descendant of Pego from someone in Gauguin’s family. He brought the pup to the museum. Apparently, by the time she took this photo, Pego’s progeny had populated the place.

Canine descendant of Gauguin's dog Pego. Photo: June Hargrove