In 1985, my brother-in-law John gave me a copy of “Rhapsody” for Christmas. This beautiful book is a catalog of Jennifer Bartlett’s seminal work of the same name. The piece, comprised of hundreds of 12” x 12” painted metal tiles, was originally exhibited at the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York in 1976 and then again 30 years later, at the Museum of Modern Art.
1985 was coincidentally, the year I finished my graduate program in painting. When I received the book, I was chagrinned to realize that despite 3 intensive years of study, I had never come across her work. This was due no doubt, to my sloppy and somewhat random research skills. But, I also hold my professors responsible for thoroughly examining the work of her contemporaries, artists like Jim Dine, Robert Rauschenberg and Alex Katz, while failing even the slightest mention of someone referred to as “one of the most successful artists in the 1970s” by Klaus Ottmann, a curator at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC.
After I saw the images in “Rhapsody”, Bartlett immediately became and continues to be a major influence for me. I strongly relate to her inclination to combine many small elements to achieve a coherent whole. Additionally, her iconic “child-like” house motif as well as her garden images touch on the theme of domesticity – something I value deeply as content. In the late 1980s, while in New York, I saw drawings and painting from the garden series and found the work to be unforgettably luscious and painterly. She has been working for the better part of 50 years and a Google image search yields, I think, a remarkably diverse and rich cross-section of what she has accomplished.