Fire Table I
Oil on canvas and enamel on wood
Gift of Sondra Gilman and Celso M. Gonzalez-Falla; P.990.3B and S.990.3A
Jennifer Losch Bartlett first entered the contemporary art scene in the early 1970s with installations of small steel plates coated with white baked enamel. The plates were painted with fastidious configurations of dots and then organized into grids. Over the ensuing two decades, Bartlett’s work moved away from the obsessive control so central to these early works toward a free, painterly depiction of nature. Gestural and expressive, her visions of nature are often unfinished narratives that the viewer is left to complete. In Fire Table I, a bright orange fire rages, not consuming but instead energizing the exotic garden and the entire natural world around it. In direct opposition to the raging flames that engulf this garden, Bartlett depicts a simple six-sided table of the same orange tones as the blaze itself. The same hexagonal object also stands in front of the canvas in three-dimensional form, scaled and positioned to correspond to the painted version. This juxtaposition extends the scene into the viewer’s space, creating a jarring disjunction between the quiet peacefulness of the gallery that the sculpture inhabits and the apocalyptic vision of a fast-approaching fire contained in the canvas.
Bartlett’s clever combination of painting and sculpture creates an elaborate three-dimensional environment. The viewer is left to negotiate the destruction and raw emotion depicted in the painting and the table’s distracting matter-of-factness, which tempers the mood of the painting, throwing a cool irony at the heat of its subject. Here the analytical and emotional aspects of Bartlett’s art—which had once seemed irreconcilable—are brought together in a dynamic composition of opposites.
Emily Shubert Burke
Last Updated: 3/24/14