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.

Gallery Reboot: Body Language

The museum’s newly reinstalled collection emphasizes connections between historical and contemporary art. Organized by the themes of the body, nature, domesticity, fabrication, and herstory, each gallery delves into a topic explored by women artists through time and around the world.

Male artists controlled the representation of the female body through most of Western art history. During the feminist art movement in the 1960s and ’70s, women artists claimed ownership over visualization of the body, and artists today explore the expressive potential of the female form. Artists Daniela Rossell, Mickalene Thomas, and Magdalena Abakanowicz use the human body to communicate powerful messages.

Daniela Rossell, Michelle Jacuzzi- Untitled (#7) (Ricas y Famosas), 1999; Chromogenic color print, 50 x 60 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC; © Daniela Rossell, Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Daniela Rossell, Michelle Jacuzzi–Untitled (#7) (Ricas y Famosas), 1999; Chromogenic color print, 50 x 60 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC; © Daniela Rossell, Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

In Michelle Jacuzzi–Untitled (#7) (1999) from the series “Ricas y Famosas,” Daniela Rossell (b. 1973) delves into the lives of Mexico’s elite families by emphasizing the way popular culture creates and disseminates female stereotypes. From a wealthy family herself, Rossell had access to some of the most affluent women in Mexico. Each subject constructs her own image by choosing her clothing, pose, and setting. Compared to other subjects in this series, Michelle is dressed in more casual clothing while perched atop a rooftop hot tub. Rossell’s model suggests a duality, shown with an over-sized rosary and subtly visible underwear and tattoo. The model’s confident posture and luxurious setting underscore her wealth and high social standing. Rossell’s works explore notions of purity, sexuality, and power in relation to the female body.

Mickalene Thomas, A-E-I-O-U and Sometimes Y, 2009; Plastic rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel on panel, 24 x 20 in.; Gift of Deborah Carstens; © 2009 Mickalene Thomas, Courtesy of the Artist and Lehmann Maupin

Mickalene Thomas, A-E-I-O-U and Sometimes Y, 2009; Plastic rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel on panel, 24 x 20 in.; Gift of Deborah Carstens; © 2009 Mickalene Thomas, Courtesy of the Artist and Lehmann Maupin

Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971) creates images of African American women as a way to scrutinize and disrupt popular notions of female beauty. Thomas pulls inspiration from art history as well as popular culture. Her works are as likely to reference 19th-century painting as 1970s Blaxploitation films. A-E-I-O-U and Sometimes Y (2009) re-creates a portrait of her model, Fran, from a photo booth picture. In Thomas’s work, Fran’s face materializes from carefully placed rhinestones against a flamingo-pink enamel background. Thomas compares her use of rhinestones to the lustrous lip gloss women wear as “another level of masking, of dressing up.” Her work challenges the perception of femininity.

Magdalena Abakanowicz (1930–2017), a leader in the fiber arts movement, created a mold made from a real person, using burlap mixed with resin and glue for her work 4 Seated Figures (2002). Born in Poland, Abakanowicz witnessed her mother get shot after soldiers stormed into their home during World War II—an instant that that is reflected in these figures. The forms are presented as genderless, and they appear to have been stripped of revealing muscles, arteries, or cords suggestive of the nervous system. Although her figures were inspired from a personal event, the work encourages multiple interpretations and speaks broadly to the human experience. Abakanowicz said, “They are naked, exposed, and vulnerable, just as we all are.”

Magdalena Abakanowicz, 4 Seated Figures, 2002; Burlap, resin, and iron rods, 53 1/2 x 24 1/4 x 99 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts; © Magdalena Abakanowicz

Magdalena Abakanowicz, 4 Seated Figures, 2002; Burlap, resin, and iron rods, 53 1/2 x 24 1/4 x 99 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts; © Magdalena Abakanowicz

Visit the museum to see these works in the third floor galleries. Can’t visit in person? Browse #GalleryReboot on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more collection highlights.

Madeline Barnes was the spring 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.