Staff Show 2015: Francesca Downs

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.

Intergalactic Ode, August 2015, Acrylic on canvas

Intergalactic Ode, August 2015, Acrylic on canvas


(c) Francesca Downs

(c) Francesca Downs

A native of Washington, DC, Francesca graduated Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore with a Bachelor of Arts in 2011. After graduating, Francesca began taking courses toward a master’s degree in painting at George Washington University. Her artworks are heavily influenced by video games, comic books, and a variety of cartoons such as Arthur, Looney Toons, Dr. Katz, Bob’s Burgers, and King of the Hill. Francesca’s works are whimsical, flat, and combine representational and non-representational subjects. She transforms 3-dimensial objects into solid forms, where shapes and line dominate the space.

What do you do at The Phillips Collection?
I am currently a full-time Control Room Operator for our Security Department. I started out as a Museum Assistant in 2012 and had a brief stint as a part-time Museum Supervisor.

Are there any unique/interesting parts about your job that most people might not know about?
During my control room shift, I play an integral role in helping facilitate art deliveries, controlling access to the museum buildings, and/or assisting visitors. Since nobody can physically see me, it’s almost like it’s happening with magic!

What is your favorite gallery/space within The Phillips Collection?
Joan Miro, Raoul Dufy and Morris Louis are a few of my favorite artists. During my first visit to The Phillips Collection, a Morris Louis show was on display and I fell in love his painting, Seal. My favorite gallery space is probably the larger of two galleries near the courtyard.

What would you like people to know about your artwork on view in the 2014 Staff Show (and/or your work in general)?
I have sort of been out of the painting and drawing game for about 3 years now. When I saw the 2015 Staff Show call for art, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to push myself and churn out a fun, little painting. I do not have a complicated process for creating my art, and most of the good stuff I’ve made was probably made under pressure. My work is fun, funny, or cute; otherwise I won’t do it. The piece I entered was just for fun, a way to dust off the old brushes, and warm up my dominant hand to prepare for new work in the near future. In 2015 (or early 2016), I’ll be launching a new website featuring my latest work.

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. 

Spotlight on The Red Sun: Part II

Image of works by Ellsworth Kelly, Joan Miro, and Alexander Calder

(Left) Ellsworth Kelly, Red Relief, 2009. Oil on canvas, two joined panels, 80 x 62 1/2 x 2 5/8 in. Private collection. Photo: Jerry L. Thompson, courtesy the artist © Ellsworth Kelly (middle) Joan Miró, The Red Sun, 1948. Oil and gouache on canvas, 36 1/8 x 28 1/8 in. Acquired 1951. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. (right) Alexander Calder, Untitled, 1948. Painted sheet metal and wire, 26 x 26 x 5 1/2 in. Gift from the estate of Katherine S. Dreier, 1953. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

Read Part I of this series 

It is always fun to hear the stories behind a work of art, giving an otherwise unknown perspective on the painting. Duncan Phillips wanted to show “art beyond ‘isms,’” and I found it interesting that while he was not keen on surrealism, he acquired Joan Miró’s The Red Sun (1948) on the grounds that it fit in with the rest of his collection. Our guide for this spotlight talk, Paul Ruther, pointed out this connectivity and discussed the painting’s similarities to other works currently on view nearby–the surrounding Ellsworth Kelly panels (use of similar, bright primary colors) and Alexander Calder mobiles (floating objects in space).

Miró’s whimsy was not only evident in his art, but also his personality. After visiting the United States and New York for the first time, he returned to Spain with an unusual souvenir—sidewalk toys, which he added to his personal toy collection. In fact, some of the toys’ faces are strikingly similar to the background face in this painting!

Hannah Hoffman, Marketing Intern

Spotlight on The Red Sun: Part I

Image of Joan Miro's painting The Red Sun

Joan Miró, The Red Sun, 1948. Oil and gouache on canvas, 36 1/8 x 28 1/8 in. Acquired 1951. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

When describing the work of Joan Miró, words like bizarre, cartoonish, surrealistic, and dreamlike immediately came to the minds of participants in one of last week’s Spotlight Talks, a weekly series devoted to examining one work in the Phillips’s permanent collection. The talk, led by Paul Ruther, Manager of Teacher Programs, focused on Miró’s The Red Sun (1948), currently on view in the first floor of the Goh Annex, and interestingly is the only work by Miró in The Phillips Collection. Up until this talk, I appreciated Miró’s work from a historical sense, but never actually liked it. This painting, however, gave me a new perspective on his work and artistic vision.

Ruther began by asking the group what words they would use to describe the general aesthetics of Miró’s work. His signature use of bright primary colors, surrealistic imagery, and cartoonish faces we found widely apparent in this painting, from the blood red sphere (which we assumed was the “red sun”) to the headless torso and the floating cat-like face at the top of the painting. Ruther concisely described his work as “art of the subconscious.”

As you can probably tell from my attempt at describing this painting, there was no clear consensus on the specific imagery it portrays but rather speculations on its possibilities. Upon first glance, I immediately saw the painting as the visual representation of our minds during a dreamlike state, which fits into Miró’s idea of “art of the subconscious.” In our examinations, we noticed that the blue background shape looks vaguely like a face and the shape on the far right resembles a torso. Ruther pointed out the various “floating eyes of observation” throughout the painting and explained that most art historians view the descending thick black curves as a representation of Miró’s melancholy, alleviated by his dreams and his art. While the wall label cites this work’s materials as oil on canvas, we learned that the lighter blue passage is actually watercolor.

Read part two tomorrow. . .

Hannah Hoffman, Marketing Intern