Staff Show: Esther Epstein

In this series, Manager of Visitor and Family Engagement Emily Bray highlights participants in the 2017 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show, on view through September 17, 2017.

Esther Epstein, Expanse In Calmness

Esther Epstein

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?
My role is a Museum Assistant in The Phillips Collection. The most unique aspects of my work are talking with people from all over the world and learning about their experiences and how they see the Phillips artwork and architecture. I enjoy viewing the work in the Phillips as it inspires me to paint almost daily. The staff are kind and artistic so it’s a comforting environment to work in.

Who is your favorite artist in the collection?
My favorite artists are Agnes Martin, Joan Mitchell, and Jake Berthot. Agnes inspired me in the realm of letting go of my work. When in an interview, Agnes was asked,” What makes you most happy?” She responded,”When my art goes out the door.” Most powerful is when Agnes stated that she “paints with her back to the world,” as do I.

Joan Mitchell’s work is so free-flowing and vividly colorful which opens one to contemporary expressive nature. Jake Berthot intrigues with his small painterly canvases that say so much with so little.

What is your favorite space within The Phillips Collection?
My favorite space is a mix of many in the Phillips. I find the layout that the Preparators skillfully formulate to be spacious and intimate in many areas; treasures often pop up when you turn corners. I like the surprises when one gallery changes paintings to allow for surprise and intrigue. Never a dull moment with new and returning works. To pick only one would be difficult as I see paintings, drawings, and sculptures of interest throughout.

What would you like people to know about your artwork on view in the 2017 Staff Show (or your work in general)?
My own artwork is created with complete silence throughout. A work of art is not simply about the artist’s intended meaning but a portal through which the viewer can encounter a “dreamscape” of uniquely personal emotions and interpretations. I rely on a minimal palette of color; soft abstractions, intricate and/or tangled lines to convey and elicit intensity of feeling. I exhibit in unique venues with the desire to lessen stress and provide tranquility to those who view my work.

My personal background involved my passion as a practicing art therapist for a total of 26 years at The National Institutes of Health, Private Practice, and Suburban Hospital with people of various diversity and diagnoses. The experiences were a highlight in my life with valuable impact. I have a Masters in Art/Art Therapy from The George Washington University.

I want to thank Instagrammer “Katelawlaw” for her most kind and humbling interest in my artwork and inspiration.

Staff Show 2016: Karina Dar Juan

In this series, Education Specialist for Public Programs, Emily Bray highlights participants in the 2016 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show, on view through September 19, 2016.

Karina Dar Juan,"Day Job Daydream: 2C"

Karina Dar Juan,”Day Job Daydream: 2C”

Karina Dar Juan

Karina Dar Juan is Virginia-born with an overseas state of mind. Having received a BA in Philosophy and Art History, followed by an MA in Art Theory and a secondary MA in Museum and Gallery Studies, all in the UK, Karina brings her expertise on European art history and Museum Practice back to the states with the hopes of working full time as a museum professional. Her art backgrounds include graphic design, illustration, makeup and costume Design, hand-knitted clothing and accessories, performance art, and running seminars and panel discussions on art within a broader cultural sphere.


Karina Dar Juan. Photo: Rhiannon Newman

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

Museum Assistant (MA); We see all, we hear all, and we protect all. Fast reflexes are a bonus.

Who are your favorite artists in the collection?

Definitely Wassily Kandinsky and Ferdinand-Victor-Eugene Delacroix; Delacroix because the art historian in me has a soft spot for the Romanticism versus Neoclassicism tension during the Enlightenment period, and Kandinsky because I’m fascinated by synesthesia and Kandinsky’s use of this trait to express his spiritualism.

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

I may be the exception to the rule as far as Museum Assistants go, but I usually favor the first floor of the Sant building. While it has a reputation for being cold and uncomfortable, I’ve seen its potential realized in so many different ways. It’s the tallest gallery space, allowing for towering sculptures, and it’s often the space where the most modern art pieces are shown, providing a refreshing place to pause and digest the more traditional exhibitions in the rest of the museum. Also, it’s the room I was posted in for my very first day as an MA.

What would you like people to know about your artwork on view in the 2016 Staff Show (or your work in general)?

I’m normally more of a knitter than any other art form, however I was inspired very early on as an MA to make an art piece on a Phillips Collection gallery. I spend all day staring at the same room, and images seem to pop out whenever I let my imagination wander. I wanted to portray the mindset of an artist lapsing into a daydream during a particularly quiet shift. Most of the motifs in my piece are from around my house, such as the plants, and I always include the usual motifs for my sister and brother: my brother as a frog or puzzle piece, and my sister as an acrobat or chipmunk.

Anything else?

Please visit my website at or my Instagram at KDJ.Design.


The 2016 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show is on view August 14 through September 19, 2016.

Staff Show 2015: Sandy Lee

In this series, Assistant to the Education Department Emily Bray highlights participants in the 2015 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show, on view through October 4, 2015.

Harley Quinn by Sandy Lee

Sandy Lee, Harley Quinn, August 2015, acrylic, marker, motor oil on canvas

Sandy Lee graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park with a degree in Art Studio. He has done a lot of airbrushing of t-shirts and hockey goalie masks.

What do you do at The Phillips Collection?
I am the IT Support Specialist at the Phillips, and am just starting my eighth year here.

Are there any unique/interesting parts about your job that most people might not know about?
The most fulfilling thing is being able to assist all of the departments with various IT needs, be it virtual gallery modeling, video conferences, or working with artists on exhibition projections. It NEVER gets boring!  One of the coolest projects I was able to work on was uploading hi-res images of Mark Rothko’s Ochre and Red on Red to Marvel Studios for use in the “Iron Man 3” movie.  It’s in Tony Stark’s apartment, and it gets blown up in one of the action scenes.

Who is/are your favorite artist/artists in the collection?
Raoul Dufy! The artworks remind me of the Pepe Le Pew cartoons.  Also, Marjorie Phillips’s Night Baseball—there is such detail in that painting, so you know she loved the game.

What is your favorite gallery/space within The Phillips Collection?
It’s so difficult to pick one. The Music Room has a quiet, dark elegance to it, as well as the Rothko Room. The galleries change constantly, so visit often!

What would you like people to know about your artwork on view in the 2015 Staff Show (or your work in general)?
I’m a huge fan of illustration, and I modeled the painting after one of Alphonse Mucha’s posters from the Art Nouveau era. I added motor oil as the background because I had just finished doing an oil change on my car, and it’s got a nice sheen and odor of the city. Harley Quinn is also one of my favorite comic icons; you’ll see her in the upcoming movie “Suicide Squad.”


The 2015 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show is on view September 2 through October 4, 2015. The show features artwork from The Phillips Collection staff. Please join us at the Staff Show reception on Thursday, September 17 6-8 pm.