By R. Couri Hay Photography by Eric Striffler| July 11, 2014 |
With a stirring exhibition at the Parrish, artist Jennifer Bartlett reflects on the influence Amagansett has had on her 40-year career.
The artist at her studio in Amagansett
“I do like structure, if it’s my structure,” says Jennifer Bartlett, an Amagansett-based artist who follows a consistent early-to-bed, early-to-rise routine for working in her Hamptons studio. Her works are currently on view at the Parrish Art Museum. The show, “Jennifer Bartlett: History of the Universe—Works 1970–2011,” is the first survey of Bartlett’s career, including her work Eleven P.M., notes scrawled on scraps of paper strewn across a table and a handful of cash in the foreground, and Eleven A.M., a still life of wood and cardboard boxes resting near unread newspapers on the floor.
The exhibit, on view through July 13, includes other fascinating works crafted over Bartlett’s 40-year career, such as two small silk screens, one portraying Earth as an astronaut standing on the moon would see it, and the other, a view of Mars; both works were done in the early 1970s. “The night of the opening, because it was evening, you didn’t really get the full sense of how the light is allowed in this particular structure,” says Parrish Art Museum curator Terrie Sultan. “The next morning, when we walked into the space, Jennifer was so thrilled to see just how many different nuances the light gave the work.”
Born and raised in the suburbs of Long Beach, California, Bartlett received her bachelor of fine arts in 1964 and then her master’s the following year, both from the Yale School of Art and Architecture. At Yale, she studied with some of the industry’s most renowned talents: James Rosenquist, Jim Dine, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, and Alex Katz. Today, her work is in the Parrish’s permanent collection as well as in the galleries of the Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tate, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Guggenheim.
Jennifer Bartlett’s Atlantic Ocean is on view at the Parrish Art Museum through July 13
Bartlett, who lives and works in Amaganasett with her Caribou terrier, Mulligan, first arrived in the Hamptons in the ’70s in the midst of the creative influx of artists coming to the East End. “Rhapsody was begun here,” she says of her seminal work, a massive visual display of 937 assembled plates, all painted with different colors and motifs; the first 100 were completed in the Hamptons. “Everyone was coming to the Hamptons, so I thought, Why not? It wasn’t like a massive decision where I had a number of alternative places I was thinking about going. And it was right by the water.”
Like many others in the area, Bartlett prefers to work in the South Fork’s famed light. “I paint outside—it seems nice to me; I like sunlight,” says the artist, whose works are also collected in Air: 24 Hours, a shocking-pink (chosen by Bartlett) coffee-table tome that chronicles her career. “I never think that I shouldn’t have done something; I always have a rationale. I don’t look back too much; it could be because I’m lazy, but I think when I arrive at a decision, it’s through fairly considerable reasoning. When I discovered the graining brushes to make the pictures of Amagansett—and I rationalized why I needed to make that certain kind of mark—I just did it. I don’t second-guess my decisions—that’s exhausting.”
Constantly exploring new materials and methods, Bartlett has remained true to her vision of painting as a process with unending possibilities. “People do get a tiny bit upset if you don’t make up your mind,” says Bartlett, whose work moves freely back and forth from abstract to figurative painting. “They want a committed abstract painter or a committed figurative painter. Everything has been more fluid to me than that; it’s not about interpreting. I like to break rules.” “Jennifer Bartlett: History of the Universe—Works 1970–2011” is on display through July 13 at the Parrish Art Museum, 279 Montauk Hwy., Water Mill, 283-2118