Pacific Ocean, 1984.
Jennifer Bartlett (American, born 1941)
Oil on canvas, 105 x 360 in. Crocker Art Museum, gift of AT&T, Inc., 2008.33.1.

When Jennifer Bartlett left school and began to forge her own path, Minimalism was the leading art movement. At the outset, she painted mostly on one-foot-square panels of cut steel arranged into a large grid. Methodical rather than intuitive, the results were consistent with that of many contemporary painters and sculptors who confronted Minimalism in the late 1960s.

A graduate of Mills College, today Jennifer Bartlett is internationally recognized for a variety of approaches. During the 1970s, she moved toward a more illusionistic manner, but one in which abstraction still dominated. Among her themes was the recurrence of personal symbols such as the house, mountain, ocean, or tree. In the 1980s, her iconography shifted again, this time to the depiction of Realist scenes based on photographic imagery. Pacific Ocean, in particular, is a tour de force of scale (thirty feet long) and illusionism. Executed in a highly detailed and Photorealistic manner, the artist considered such paintings twice-removed from reality: the first being the act of photography itself, the second, painting from the reproduction.

Bartlett savors the way such an approach inevitably draws the viewer into the curious, theatrical world of art. By focusing tightly on her depiction of eddies swirling onto the beach, Bartlett unbalances the viewer. Because depth is flattened, our notion of up and down is distorted, and what we perceive as an abstraction becomes a specific subject matter only as we step back.

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