Artist Spotlight: Nanette Carter

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today places abstract works by multiple generations of black women artists in context with one another—and within the larger history of abstract art—for the first time, revealing the artists’ role as under-recognized leaders in abstraction.

Illumination #1 (1984)

Nanette Carter (b. 1954, Columbus, Ohio)

A self-titled “scapeologist,” Nanette Carter specializes in crafting fictional landscapes of outer space and the ocean, sky, and earth. Through visual world-building, Carter finds a way to simultaneously critique the drama of humankind and pay homage to the persistence of the natural world. For Carter, the imagined realm serves as a framework in which “the necessity of war and the horrors of injustice” can be fused to “the mysteries of nature and human nature.”

Illumination #1 is the first in a series of 49 works, all created between 1984 and 1986. The series was inspired by Carter’s first trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she became fascinated with the blend of European Catholic and African Yoruba faiths. Carter’s sharp, rhythmic mark-making references the music of Rio, the pulse of the city that Carter became enamored with. Shapes fit together with distinct sense of motion in Illumination #1, recalling celebration and festivity.

Nanette Carter, Cantilevered #14, from the series “Cantilevered,” 2014; Oil on Mylar, 30 x 37 in.; N’Namdi Contemporary Gallery, Miami, Florida; © Nanette Carter; Photo courtesy of the artist

From 1997 onward, Carter has worked exclusively on frosted Mylar, a type of plastic sheet developed by DuPont during the 1950s. By using Mylar, Carter achieves a unique “luminosity, density, and transparency” in her artwork—particularly true in Cantilevered #14 (2014), Carter’s second work on view in Magnetic Fields. Part of a series of 37, “cantilever” is an architectural term referring to a rigid support beam anchored only on one end. In Cantilevered #14, nebulous blocks of color and texture are invisibly suspended in a pool of transparent Mylar. The almost precarious stack of shapes calls to mind the delicate balance of family, friends, work, health, news, and social media in the 21st century, as well as the support nets necessary to maintain it.

Visit the museum and explore Magnetic Fields, on view through January 21, 2018. Learn more through the Magnetic Fields Mobile Guide.

—Ilayda Orankoy is the 2017 fall publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Hung Liu: Restoring Memory

Born in 1948, a year before the Chinese Communist party came to power, Hung Liu grew up in an environment that discouraged apolitical personal expression. Although she received training in socialist realism, Liu delighted in painting landscapes and drawing portraits based on photos, both unsanctioned forms of expression under the Maoist regime. It was only when Liu immigrated to America that she began to experiment with art’s potential beyond the realm of realistic representation.

Hung Liu, Shan-Mountain, 2012; Color aquatint etching with gold leaf, 47 x 36 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Promised Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore; © Hung Liu; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Liu’s best-known works are paintings based on historical photographs. Re-creating the images in an enlarged format, she transforms humble documents into large, vivid portraits. Perhaps in rebellion against her training, Liu rejects the rigid realism of Chinese art of the post-Mao era. Instead, she embraces traditional conventions of Chinese painting that value energetic, expressive line work. She uses a restorative process in her work, layering bright colors over the black-and-white original images as well as decorative textures and whimsical forms from classical paintings. She often drips linseed oil over the canvas to create a hazy veil that hints at the muddled refractions of history and memory. By focusing on her subjects, Liu dignifies and humanizes these nameless faces of history. In lieu of capturing their precise historical context, she enhances the mysterious aura lent to them by the passage of time.

Liu imbues unlikely subjects with an awesome presence, as seen in her works on view at NMWA. On a 1991 trip to China, Liu discovered a collection of old photographs depicting unnamed prostitutes. In Shan-Mountain (2012) and Shui-Water (2012) she extracts these women from their source photos and presents them, magnified in scope, in dramatic portraits. Her focus on restoring their integrity as people over restoring the images as historical artifacts indicates a deep engagement with the humanity of her subjects. Once again, her vivid palette not only brings them to life, but endows the women with an air of nobility that suggests they might be royal concubines, or even empresses.

Hung Liu, Shui-Water, 2012; Color aquatint etching with gold leaf, 47 x 36 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Promised Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore; © Hung Liu; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

The names of the paintings themselves allude to the Chinese name for landscape paintings (shan shui hua, literally “mountain river paintings”) where towering mountains and sweeping rivers dwarf the occupants of the land. Although she imitates the aesthetics of landscape painting, Liu ultimately subverts their focus. Rather than emphasizing nature’s grandeur, she asserts the dignity of these individuals. By blending Western portraiture with Chinese landscape painting, Liu casts her subjects as monumental figures that stand independent of time or place. History may pick and choose who to remember, the paintings seem to say, but the integrity of the human spirit will thrive regardless.

—Xiaoxiao Meng was the summer 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Artist Spotlight: Maren Hassinger

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today places abstract works by multiple generations of black women artists in context with one another—and within the larger history of abstract art—for the first time, revealing the artists’ role as under-recognized leaders in abstraction.

Wrenching News (2008) 

Maren Hassinger (b. 1947 in Los Angeles, California)

“I want my work to offer an experience to look and to see, to contemplate,” says sculptor and performance artist Maren Hassinger. With a career that has spanned over four decades, Hassinger continues to create works that invite viewers to contemplate issues of nature, culture, and identity. Hassinger’s abstract sculpture Wrenching News, on view in Magnetic Fields, explores such themes.

Hassinger began her artistic career at Bennington College in Vermont in 1965, where she planned to pursue a degree in dance but ultimately decided to focus on the visual arts. After receiving her degree in sculpture, Hassinger received her MFA at UCLA. The course of her career changed after she took a class in weaving, and she began to experiment with the malleability and texture of fiber when creating sculptures. Hassinger’s fascination with the transformative qualities of unconventional materials continued to grow.

Her six-square-diameter floor sculpture Wrenching News is an embodiment of these interests. Hassinger twisted and coiled together hundreds of strips of newspaper into a veil. Inspired by the events and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the artist used pages from The New York Times. Hassinger employs newspaper as a medium because of the relevant stories it contains. She explains, “The New York Times, in particular, has incredible international coverage and so that use of the newspaper is like saying this is about the world.”

Maren Hassinger, Wrenching News (detail), 2008; Shredded, twisted, and wrapped New York Times newspapers, 12 x 72 x 72 in.; Courtesy of the artist, New York, New York; © Maren Hassinger

The twisting of the material comes from the artist’s background in weaving and working with textiles. The busy, complex appearance of her work calls to mind the sociopolitical challenges that can arise from the devastation caused by a natural disaster. At the same time, the work sparks conversation about how tragedy and suffering are part of the human experience.

The work’s positioning on the floor encourages viewers to remember that sometimes devastating global events can spur society to grow, endure, and become more resilient. As the director of the Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Hassinger emphasizes the importance of “empowering people through art so they can be empowered to change things.”

Visit the museum and explore Magnetic Fields, on view through January 21, 2018. Learn more through the Magnetic Fields Mobile Guide.

—Katie Benz is the 2017 fall digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Spotlight: Mary Lovelace O’Neal

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today places abstract works by multiple generations of black women artists in context with one another—and within the larger history of abstract art—for the first time, revealing the artists’ role as under-recognized leaders in abstraction.

Racism is Like Rain, Either it’s Raining or it’s Gathering Somewhere (1993)

Mary Lovelace O’Neal (b. 1942, Jackson, Mississippi)

Racism is Like Rain, Either it’s Raining or it’s Gathering Somewhere (1993) combines several trademark aspects of Mary Lovelace O’Neal’s style: bold, precise color; contrasting, velvety black; and aerobic, free-spirited movement. Together, they work to illustrate marginalized experience through representative abstraction. A vibrant “cloud” of heavy brushstrokes permeates the stark, matte background, underscoring the omnipresent and unavoidable nature of racism. The piece was originally on view at the California Afro-American No Justice, No Peace? Resolutions exhibition in 1993, a reaction to the Rodney King verdict and ensuing race riots of 1992.

Mary Lovelace O’Neal, “Little Brown Girl with your Hair in a Curl”/Daddy #5, 1973; Charcoal and pastel on paper, 18 x 24 in.; Mott-Warsh Collection, Flint, Michigan; © Mary Lovelace O’Neal; Photo courtesy of the Mott-Warsh Collection, Flint, Michigan

O’Neal’s roots in activism—she was mentored by figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin during the 1960s—are inextricably intertwined with her artwork. She examines the continuing influences of racism and celebrates the resilience of black culture in her other Magnetic Fields works “Little Brown Girl with your Hair in a Curl”/Daddy #5 (1973) and “…And a Twinkle in Your Eye”/Daddy #6 (1973), both of which involve O’Neal’s signature black pigment smothering a streak of light blue.

O’Neal does not use abstraction as an elaborate metaphor for black experience; rather, she views abstraction as a more transparent way to “give voice to the ‘intangible elements of the human spirit.’” O’Neal’s repeated use of black pigment and its obvious symbolism throughout her works speaks to this unfiltered exploration of racial politics in the United States.

The artist makes a point of being clear with her intentions in her artwork, particularly in the way she titles each piece. “My paintings and their titles speak for me. They’re not attitudes of despair; they just simply state a factual existence that continues.”

Consequently, O’Neal’s paintings carry a sense of optimism and joy despite the weight of their subject matter. Although Racism is Like Rain, Either it’s Raining or it’s Gathering Somewhere portrays a push-and-pull of power dynamics, there is a whimsical freedom in the illusion of movement.

Visit the museum and explore Magnetic Fields, on view through January 21, 2018. Learn more through the Magnetic Fields Mobile Guide.

—Ilayda Orankoy is the 2017 fall publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Renaissance Rebel: Lavinia Fontana

One of the oldest works in NMWA’s collection, Portrait of a Noblewoman (ca. 1580), was painted by late Renaissance artist Lavinia Fontana (1552–1614, Bologna, Italy). NMWA’s collection holds three of Fontana’s paintings. Considered the first professional woman artist, Fontana worked within the same sphere as her male counterparts, outside a court or convent. She earned a living through her art, broke barriers, and earned a list of superlatives and appellations.

Fontana trained in her father’s studio. Her family, though not noble, moved among a well-educated circle which valued the education of women. Bologna’s university accepted women, and Fontana earned the degree of dottoressa.

In 1577 Fontana married Gian Paolo Zappi—a marriage which proved unique. Fontana was married without a dowry on the assumption that she would earn her income through painting. Her marriage contract required that she and her husband remain in her father’s household, and that Fontana would continue to contribute to the family’s workshop. Though a painter himself, Zappi recognized his wife’s talent and acted as her agent and assistant, prioritizing her career as an artist.

Fontana could not join the Carracci School because the institution emphasized the drawing of nudes—and women were not allowed access to nude models. Fontana did not let that discourage her. She proceeded to paint nude figures anyway, like in the case of Minerva Dressing (1613). Some scholars claim that Fontana was the first woman to paint female nudes, though this is difficult to prove. Later in life she was elected to the Roman Academy, increasing the value of her paintings and allowing her to collect art and antiques herself.

Best known for her portraits, Fontana also painted historical and religious subjects. Portraiture was deemed an appropriate subject for a woman, but history and religious painting were not. Undeterred, Fontana made more than a dozen altarpieces. More than 100 of her paintings survive, more than any other woman artist from her time. The quality and breadth of her oeuvre becomes all the more impressive when one considers that she gave birth to eleven children, however, only three survived her. Pregnant for nearly a decade of her life, Fontana worked through the physical and emotional strain of motherhood.

A savvy businesswoman, Fontana maintained friendships with many of her sitters. Often naming them as godparents of her numerous children, Fontana guaranteed herself upper-class patronage. By 1604 Fontana and her family relocated to Rome to paint for the papal office. Her youngest son’s godfather was Cardinal Camillo Borghese, who later became Pope Paul V.   

Reportedly charming, Fontana was a sought after portraitist among nobility—particularly noblewomen. Biographer Malvasia stated, “All the ladies of the city would compete in wishing to have her close.” Sitters for Fontana knew to expect a flattering portrayal that highlighted both their beauty and their intelligence, with particular attention to jewelry and fabric.

Visit the museum to see paintings by this Renaissance rebel!

Chloe Bazlen is the summer 2017 education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Call of the Wild: Polly Morgan

In celebration of NMWA’s 30th anniversary, and inspired by the museum’s focus on contemporary women artists as catalysts for change, Revival illuminates how women working in sculpture, photography, and video use spectacle and scale for expressive effect.

Installation view of Polly Morgan's Receiver in Revival

Installation view of Polly Morgan’s Receiver in Revival

Polly Morgan (b. 1980, Banbury, Oxfordshire, England)

Growing up in the countryside, Polly Morgan always had a pack of unusual pets keeping her company, forcing her to learn about living with animals. Only after she moved to London did she realize how fascinating their bodies became in death. Today, Morgan makes a career out of crafting haunting sculptures from taxidermy animal carcasses.

Morgan’s work straddles scientific and artistic disciplines. Although she follows in the footsteps of scientific convention, she endows even this process a meaning beyond preservation. Her work forces viewers to contemplate death even as she incorporates taxidermy animals into vibrant sculptures, marking a simultaneous rejection and acceptance of death’s place in life.

The Artist’s Voice:

“I’m not a morbid person, I’m actually really optimistic. I hate the fact that death hangs over us all our lives. I see [the aesthetic of the body] as a raw material to work with; with no soul left, the body becomes a beautiful ornament.”—Polly Morgan, interview in The Independent

“Taxidermy is an ultimately futile effort to harness nature, it allows us to manipulate and control the body of an animal in a way we would struggle, or in my case would not wish, to in life. . . . Most objects can be art; a urinal, a bed, etc. A dead animal presents a problem in that it decays and can therefore only exist a finite amount of time before being altered irrevocably. Taxidermy has thus allowed me to incorporate animals in my work the way other sculptors use ‘found objects.’”—Polly Morgan, interview in Broad Strokes

Polly Morgan, Receiver, 2009; Taxidermy quail chicks and Bakelite telephone handset, 9 x 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Ilene Gutman; © Polly Morgan; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Polly Morgan, Receiver, 2009; Taxidermy quail chicks and Bakelite telephone handset, 9 x 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 in.; NMWA, Gift of Ilene Gutman; © Polly Morgan; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Revival Highlight:

Receiver (2009), featured in Revival, illustrates Morgan’s capacity for duality in her work. In this piece seven chicks poke their heads from the receiver end of a telephone, beaks agape. Though their tiny heads and nestled bodies imply a tender helplessness in youth, the mere sight of their open beaks evokes a grating shrill in the viewer’s mind.

Morgan incorporates the natural into the artificial, drawing revealing parallels between the chicks and their unexpected nest. Despite representing the possibility of tender interpersonal connection, too often technology like the telephone becomes an outlet for aggression rather than affection, replacing compassion with confrontation. Even as the chicks evoke nurturing tenderness in the viewer, their implied proximity to the listener’s ear makes their pleas a confrontational disruption to gentler discourse. By combining the natural and artificial Morgan draws discomfort from what should represent convenience, calling into question the intention and functional use behind communicative technology such as the phone through deliberate visual dissonance. 

Visit the museum and explore Revival, on view through September 10, 2017.

—Xiaoxiao Meng is the summer 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Falling into Place: Charlotte Gyllenhammar

In celebration of NMWA’s 30th anniversary, and inspired by the museum’s focus on contemporary women artists as catalysts for change, Revival illuminates how women working in sculpture, photography, and video use spectacle and scale for expressive effect.

Charlotte Gyllenhammar (b. 1963, Gothenburg, Sweden)

Although Charlotte Gyllenhammar studied painting in art school, her work consists primarily of film and three-dimensional installations. Even after this shift in medium, a painterly sensibility continues to inform her work. Gyllenhammar often incorporates projections and sculptures to create spatial complexity. Her work invites the viewer into an emotionally charged dialogue through intense contrast between images. By employing the surreal, she masks the familiar in an unfamiliar guise, calling the viewer’s concepts of normalcy into question. Her pieces frequently engage with themes such as inversion, sight, and loss of innocence.

The Artist’s Voice: 

“My sculptures are sort of falling, and falling forward, or throwing themselves, and hanging, and hovering, and falling, so I think I have that kind of dynamic—these poles of the more passive, implicit and the more active, explicit.”

“I’m fascinated by that sort of living, sleeping, breathing, resting, and the sort of ultimate point, death. . . . And you don’t know when, you don’t know how, but we know that. But I find it very hard to accept that we are going to die. That’s kind of an unbearable thought that I tried to get used to.”—Charlotte Gyllenhammar, interview in The Parlor

Revival Highlight:

Unrest and repose become bedfellows in Charlotte Gyllenhammar’s Fall (1999), a two-screen video installation featured in Revival. Projected on the ceiling, the video shows a woman hanging upside down, her extravagant dress billowing around her. On the floor another projection shows two men sleeping in a narrow bed. Their occasional movement seems less like an acknowledgement of her frustrated struggles and more like a mundane nighttime reflex.

Charlotte Gyllenhammar, Fall, 1999; Video installation, dimensions variable; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Charlotte Gyllenhammar; Installation photos by Stefan Bohlin

Charlotte Gyllenhammar, Fall, 1999; Video installation, dimensions variable; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Charlotte Gyllenhammar; Installation photos by Stefan Bohlin

Rather than employ traditional narratives, Gyllenhammar seeks meaning in contradiction and contrasting visions. While the woman appears trapped by her suspension, the unconventional angle makes it seems as though she is floating freely. Her solitary struggle contrasts with the men’s peaceful companionship, lending a sense of complicity to their rest. Yet even as this unawareness becomes an accomplice in her discomfort, their innocence shields them from even acknowledging her.

Gyllenhammar’s fascination with sight and seeing comes into play as well. The screens function as windows, allowing viewers to observe the characters like voyeurs. What visitors see reverses the dynamics of vulnerability. Although the hanging woman appears vulnerable through the unwilling exposure of her body, she retains agency in the camera’s concealment of that exposure. The men slumber in a safer environment, yet suffer complete exposure to the audience, completely open and vulnerable in their lack of awareness. Attentive to the unseen as well as the seen, Gyllenhammar crafts a scene that leaves viewers hanging, unsettled but ultimately intrigued.

Visit the museum and explore Revival, on view through September 10, 2017.

—Xiaoxiao Meng is the summer 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

4 Questions with Amy Sherald

Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald (b. 1973) spoke with attendees at NMWA’s eighth Artists in Conversation program earlier this year. Designed as an intimate in-gallery discussion, Artists in Conversation offer visitors the opportunity to explore the museum and engage with artists and their works in the galleries. Sherald discussed her background, artistic process, and works featured in the museum, eliciting questions from program participants.

Amy Sherald in front of her work at NMWA; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Amy Sherald in front of her work at NMWA; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

How did you first develop your signature backgrounds?

“I was trying to work my way through some ideas, and I actually tried to destroy a painting. I poured turpentine all over it and I just left it on the floor. I came back the next day and there were parts of it that had this speckling effect that I really liked. It’s important that these figures don’t exist in a space or time. I feel like the backgrounds work for that—they exist in a liminal space.”

Can you talk about the way you portray skin color?

“In graduate school I was creating self-portraits. . . . I painted people in different colors. One was black, one was a raw sienna, and one was a yellow ochre. It was a way of deconstructing race and asking that question about what race means to us as a people. The gray was an under color and I decided to leave it. Mars black and Naples yellow make these beautiful skin tones. . . . Each [figure] is a different color because each background is a different color. Green comes through, blue comes through, pink comes through. It just worked.”

What was it like studying with Grace Hartigan?

“She was a great role model—especially the stories she would tell about what her life was like as a woman trying to be an artist, working with [Jackson] Pollock and [Willem] de Kooning, and the tension that was there…the way they would put her down sometimes. All those things were learning experiences.”

Amy Sherald speaks to Artists in Conversation program attendees; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Amy Sherald speaks to program attendees; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Would you ever consider making smaller works?

“I really love drawing with charcoal…so, yes, I have. But then when I think about the work being in a museum. For me, the bigger the better because I want to take up that space and…I don’t want anyone visiting the museum and wondering if there was an Amy Sherald in there. I want them to know it was an Amy Sherald.”

Visit the museum to see Sherald’s paintings in person. Stay tuned about future programs through the online calendar and by signing up for e-news.

—Ashley Harris is assistant educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Mixed Media Majesty: Petah Coyne

In celebration of NMWA’s 30th anniversary, and inspired by the museum’s focus on contemporary women artists as catalysts for change, Revival illuminates how women working in sculpture, photography, and video use spectacle and scale for expressive effect.

Installation view of Petah Coyne’s Untitled #781 (1994); Photo: Yassine El Mansouri

Installation view of Petah Coyne’s Untitled #781 (1994); Photo: Yassine El Mansouri

Petah Coyne (b. 1953, Oklahoma City)

Called the “queen of mixed media,” Petah Coyne creates attention-grabbing sculptural works and photographs. Examples of both are on view in Revival. Her sculptures incorporate unusual materials like wax, sand, silk flowers, and taxidermy animals. Coyne’s massive forms are often seen suspended from the ceiling or snaking up gallery walls. She breathes new life into objects that may not otherwise be used, and incorporates obscured forms of the human body. Coyne spends years with each piece, and her creative process is as mysterious to her as the works themselves appear to viewers.

The Artist’s Voice:

“When material seems devoid of life, of possibility, I want even more to make something of it. I have an obsessive attraction to these kinds of materials. They are functionless yet carry all sorts of associations and memories.”—Petah Coyne, interview with Carrie Pryzbilla

“All of my pieces seem fragile. But that is deceiving, because they’re all begun with steel understructures. Yet I want each one to look incredibly delicate and to have that feminine sense of appearing soft and seductive. But as any number of women have shown, we have an internal strength and drive that is hard to fathom.”—Petah Coyne, interview in Sculpture Magazine

Installation view of Petah Coyne’s Untitled #1287 (Tati) (2009); Photo: Yassine El Mansouri

Revival Highlight:

Revival features sculptural and photographic work by Coyne that can evoke a range of emotions. Her photograph Untitled #885 (Saucer Baby) (1997) evokes feelings of playfulness, like the child in the pool, but also has a haunting quality. The intrigue and extravagance of the layers of wax and other media in her large-scale works Untitled #1287 (Tati) (2009) and Untitled #781 (1994) jog memories and form new associations in the viewer’s mind.

Untitled #1287 (Tati) features a taxidermy goose diving into a swirl of deep purple velvet and wax-dipped silk flowers. Coyne’s use of a stuffed bird and fake flowers recall associations with the past-life of “dead” objects. Lush and dramatic, Coyne’s work presents a spectacle that grabs and holds the viewer’s gaze.

Visit the museum and explore Revival, on view through September 10, 2017.

—Meghan Masius was the spring 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Artist Spotlight: Patricia Tobacco Forrester

Revel in the beauty of nature captured by Patricia Tobacco Forrester (1940–2011) in her large-scale watercolor works on view at NMWA. The artist’s work is characterized by expansive compositions filled with vibrant hues.

Forester’s affinity for nature began at a young age. A New England native, Forrester grew up on a small farm in Western Massachusetts. She received a Bachelor of Arts from Smith College in 1962. Originally a printmaker, Forrester studied under sculptor and graphic artist Leonard Baskin and later received a Master of Fine Arts from Yale University in 1965.

Patricia Tobacco Forrester, Bronzed Roses, 1991; Watercolor, 40 x 60 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Promised Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in Memory of the Artist; © The Estate of Patricia Tobacco Forrester

Patricia Tobacco Forrester, Bronzed Roses, 1991; Watercolor, 40 x 60 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Promised Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in Memory of the Artist; © The Estate of Patricia Tobacco Forrester

Forrester produced some of her best known works in Washington, D.C, where she lived for nearly 30 years. She painted almost exclusively outdoors, finding inspiration in neighborhood parks and gardens around the city, including the National Arboretum. She once said, “I think I know almost every tree and flower there.” For Forrester’s artistic practice, working from photographs was not sufficient. She preferred painting en plein air, because of the wealth of visual information provided in nature. Light also played a key role in her work. When choosing a location to paint, the artist focused on areas with a dramatic interplay of light with surrounding trees and vegetation.

NMWA visitor gazes at Barbados (left) and Bronzed Roses (right); Photo: Madeline Barnes, NMWA

A visitor gazes at Patricia Tobacco Forrester’s Barbados (1995) at the left and Bronzed Roses (1991) at the right; Photo: Madeline Barnes, NMWA

Unconcerned with realistic depictions, Forrester enjoyed inconsistencies and distortions in her work. She often described her paintings as abstract and enjoyed the “accidental nature of watercolor” as a medium. She dove into each scene with little to no preparatory sketching. This technique allowed her pieces to evolve naturally, influenced both by the natural properties of her watercolors and by her personal response to her surroundings.

During the winter months, when D.C. weather was not conducive to working outside, Forrester often ventured to more tropical locales. One of her favorite destinations outside of the D.C. area was Costa Rica. Her work from abroad depicts lush and intricate rainforest scenes, integrating components from a multitude of sites. Forrester masterfully created vibrant, layered compositions.

Visit NMWA to see two of Forrester’s large-scale watercolors, Bronzed Roses (1991) and Barbados (1995), on view in the third floor galleries.

Caroline Cress was the spring 2017 development events intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.