Jennifer Barlett (b. 1941), a major art world figure since her trailblazing exhibitions at New York’s Paula Cooper Gallery in the mid-1970s, took time out to ponder new directions in both her professional and private life when she came to Bermuda for a five-weeks during the summer of 1998. She spent much of her vacation working – producing a series of vibrant Island pastels which represent a dramatic shift from the gridded narrative abstracts.
The result was a series of 20 pastels on paper measuring 30-by-30 inches –A much smaller canvas than some of Bartlett’s more monumental creations.
The Bermuda works are nevertheless impressive, characterized by energetic colour and style often lacking in typically tidy renditions of island life. Details are unmistakably Bermudian: a line a sailing school lasers being tugged across Hamilton Harbour, a palette of mid-Atlantic blues alternating turquoise and midnight, and deftly-subtle shapes of vegetation only a local would recognize as shaggy palmettos or the sweep of a casuarinas grove.
“I come from a whole different orientation. I’m not a landscape artist. I’m more conceptually-inclined and my work in some ways is basically abstract.”, says Bartlett, who drew some of the scenes based on views from the Harbour Road home where she stayed with her daughter. Perched on an upper-floor balcony, Bartlett worked from 7 am to 10 am or until the crushing humidity became too oppressive.
“I chose to do pastels because watercolours would have been so slow – they just don’t dry fast enough in this weather.” Bartlett recounts.
“I started doing these very straightforward landscape drawings about three or four years ago,” she says of the new work. “I’d just come out of a really horrible child-custody trial. My dealer in Aspen loved my pastels and just wanted me to go out and draw. So I went out for six weeks and drew every day. That’s how I got started. I take a few sheets of paper and pastels everywhere I go now. It’s become an obsession.”
August 1998 was her second trip of the year to Bermuda; the first, in March, saw her complete 58 drawings, each 22-by-22 inches, during a rained out stay at Cambridge Beaches. All those Bermuda works were sold at San Francisco’s Berggruen Gallery.
Jennifer Bartlett’s work in Bermuda was represented by Julie Sylvester Cabot.