The house has been a central icon in the work of Jennifer Bartlett, who has been recognized since the late 1960s for her innovative fusion of conceptualism and painterly figuration. The rudimentary triangle-over-square symbol has followed—or perhaps carried—Bartlett through numerous intense, systematic shifts in production, often becoming a focal point in her mediation between abstraction and representation. The current exhibition at Locks Gallery is a unique survey reuniting works featuring the house motif, spanning from the 1977 installation 131 Greene Street / Patmos—a twenty-foot long sequence of enameled-steel tiles—to a monumental 2007-8 diptych of seaside shacks in Amagansett, New York.
This gathering of work reveals the depth and evolution of a personal symbol. Bartlett’s houses have long been tied to the places she has lived and visited, from the late 1970s “Addresses” series named for the dwellings of fellow artists and friends in New York, to later landscapes drawn from the shores of Long Island where Bartlett made her retreat from the city. Across such distinct series, the house becomes subject to the seemingly limitless flexibility of her painterly vocabulary. Each image in the exhibition is a distinct experiment in technique, mark-making, and mood, ranging from the mechanical regularity of early steel-plate works to playful compositions of the late 1990s Technicolor patterning of House: Dots, Hatches and the patchwork surrealism of Kanga and Charlie (both 1998). The house emerges into three dimensions as twin wooden sculptures in Red House, Green House (1997), and is transfigured into a haunting, film-noir persona in studies of a white shed from the 1980s, including the large, cinematic oil painting At Sands Point #47 (1985).
Through each movement in Bartlett’s rhapsodic evolution in style, the rectilinear grid persists as an organizational device, uniting these diverse works into a cumulative story spanning thirty years. The paintings are at once formal experiments and psychological portraits, in which the house becomes a surrogate for Bartlett herself, and its disparate abstractions evoke the crystallizing and uncanny actions of the memory upon places we once occupied.
Jennifer Losch Bartlett (b. 1941, Long Beach, CA) studied at Mills College in California and graduated from Yale University before moving to New York City in 1967. She developed a unique form of modular enamel painting on steel tiles, and proceeded to experiment with the logic of the grid through bodies of work that engaged totalizing installation, autobiography, and imagery of nature. Her early landmark installation Rhapsody (1976), a monumental aggregation of 987 steel plates, is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, and many paintings are found in major public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Yale University Art Gallery, the Tate Modern, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, LACMA, and SFMOMA. She has been the subject of two museum retrospectives organized by the Walker Art Center (1985) and the Parrish Art Museum (2013-14), and a major solo presentation at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 2014 that reunited her three largest steel-plate installations. Bartlett has exhibited in Philadelphia with Locks Gallery since 1994.