Jennifer Bartlett, artist who made steel plates her canvas, dies at 81

Jennifer Bartlett, a painter who rose in the 1970s and 1980s to become a rare woman at the pinnacle of the American art world, using a multitude of styles, colors and materials – including hundreds of plates of shining steel – for exploring ideas about change, repetition and the limits of modern art, died July 25 at her home in Amagansett, NY, on Long Island. She was 81 years old.

Her death was announced by the Paula Cooper Gallery and the Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York, which represent her. A Paula Cooper Gallery spokeswoman, Sarah Goulet, said Ms Bartlett was ill but did not give a specific cause.

Finding inspiration in a seemingly mundane home, a simple sailboat, or the dreary view from her backyard, Ms. Bartlett saw endless variety in mundane scenes. She often painted the same object dozens or even hundreds of times in melancholy or jubilant, figurative or abstract works. The scale of his pieces varied with the tone: while many of his paintings were done on large canvases, other works were vast mosaics of steel tiles, filling an entire gallery as they spanned walls and in corners.

“Jennifer has blazed a trail for young artists, especially female artists, with the idea of ​​creating truly monumental installations with paint,” said Klaus Ottmann, curator at the Phillips Collection in Washington, in an interview with 2013 with the New York Times.

Late in her career, Ms Bartlett painted scenes from her garden, views of the hospital where she was recuperating in Manhattan and a pointillist image of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But she remained best known for an earlier, more conceptual work: “Rhapsody,” a collection of 987 painted steel plates that filled the Paula Cooper Gallery when it was first exhibited in 1976. Times art critic John Russell , opened his review of the installation by calling it “the most ambitious piece of new art that has occurred to me since I started living in New York”.

Instead of using a traditional canvas, Ms. Bartlett made one-foot-square steel plates that she baked in white enamel. Then she adds a pattern that becomes one of her trademarks, the screen printing of a pale gray grid that she uses to organize her images. Finally, she added or subtracted abstract markings or geometric shapes (triangles, squares, circles, lines) or painted more elaborate images (a house, a tree, a mountain, the ocean), using all the enamel paint colors that were sold at the time by Testors, an art supply company.

Taken as a whole, “Rhapsody” was both playful and philosophical, serving as something of a catalog of patterns, styles, colors, and forms available to modern painters. “Mastering it from start to finish is a singular adventure,” Russell wrote, “and by the time we’ve reflected on the 54 different blues that went into the final ‘Ocean’ section, we’ll have expanded our notions of time, and memory, and change, and painting itself.

Ms Bartlett said she came up with the piece as she went along, wanting it to unfold as a conversation “in which people walk away from one thing and maybe come back to it and then make some even with the following thing”. The installation was later acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which exhibited “Rhapsody” in its atrium.

One of four children, Ms Bartlett was born Jennifer Ann Losch in Long Beach, California on March 14, 1941. Her father owned a construction company and her mother was a former fashion illustrator. Ms. Bartlett sought to build a different life for herself, drawing constantly as a young girl and dreaming – even at age 5 – of moving to New York to become a painter. After seeing the Disney animated movie ‘Cinderella’, she drew the fairytale princess about 500 times, she said, ‘all the same but with different hair colors and dresses’.

Ms. Bartlett studied painting at Mills College in Oakland, California, graduating in 1963. She continued her art studies at Yale University, earning a BFA in 1964 and an MFA the next year. Her teacher Jack Tworkov, an abstract expressionist, introduced her to young experimental artists, including Claes Oldenburg and Robert Rauschenberg, whose work opened Ms Bartlett to new directions in modern art.

As she later said, “I had walked into my life”.

While in college, she married Ed Bartlett, a medical student. For a time, she shuttled between their home in New Haven, Connecticut; his art studio in Manhattan; and the University of Connecticut, where she taught and slept in her office. This arrangement proved untenable, and after a few years she divorced and moved to SoHo, where she was part of an artistic community that included Richard Serra, Chuck Close and Jonathan Borofsky, who lived across the street. side of the street.

“Art at that time had to be new,” she told Bomb magazine in 2005. “You had to take the next step.” To distinguish herself from her peers, she collected items found around the neighborhood (“rubber stoppers, plastic tiles, skeins of rope, red plastic teapots”) and baked, frozen, dropped, painted, and smashed them into works. of art. Inspired by subway panels, she then turned to steel plates.

By the mid-1980s, she was one of the country’s most prominent artists, with a retrospective of her work at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and traveling around the country. She was photographed for Vogue and Vanity Fair, featured in the New Yorker, and began dividing her time between New York and Paris, where she lived with her second husband, German actor Mathieu Carrière, before their marriage broke down. ends in divorce.

She also dabbled in poetry and prose, publishing an autobiographical novel titled “History of the Universe” (1985). “The skin on the soles of my feet is rough,” she wrote in an impressionistic passage. “I am prone to alcohol, anxiety, nervous stomach, moods, shy optimism and inflammatory infections. I was analyzed without success, although we tried both; the same is true of marriage.

At the same time, she continued to complete ambitious large-scale art projects, including site-specific commissions for the lobby of a federal court in Atlanta and the ceiling of a Buddhist temple in Japan. His work has since been acquired by institutions such as the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in DC, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the Tate Modern in London.

Survivors include a daughter from his second marriage, Alice Carrière, and two sisters.

When Ms Bartlett rented a villa on the French Riviera in the late 1970s, she began sketching and painting her view outside, eventually making nearly 200 images for a series called ‘In the Garden’. . His later projects included “Sea Wall” (1985), an installation of boat paintings and sculptures that spanned over 35 feet; “AIR: 24 Hours” (1991-92), which included a chart for each hour of the day; and “Recitative” (2011), an installation of 372 painted steel plates reminiscent of the landmark work that made her famous.

“Instead of refining things, I just do more,” she told People magazine, explaining her serial approach to art. “I can’t do anything.”


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