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Jennifer Bartlett, artist who made steel plate for her canvas, dies aged 81 | Pro Club Bd

Jennifer Bartlett, a painter who became a rare woman at the forefront of the American art world in the 1970s and 1980s, used a variety of styles, colors, and materials—including hundreds of gleaming steel plates—to convey ideas about change, repetition, and the exploring frontiers of modern art, died on July 25 at her home in Amagansett, NY, on Long Island. She was 81.

Her death was announced by the Paula Cooper Gallery and the Marianne Boesky Gallery of New York City, who represent her. A Paula Cooper Gallery spokeswoman, Sarah Goulet, said Ms Bartlett was ill but did not give a specific reason.

Finding inspiration in a seemingly unremarkable house, a humble sailboat, or the desolate view from her backyard, Ms. Bartlett saw infinite variety in everyday scenes. She often painted the same object dozens or even hundreds of times in works that were melancholy or jubilant, figurative or abstract. The size of her pieces varied with tone: while many of her paintings were painted on large canvases, other works were huge steel-tile mosaics that filled an entire gallery while stretching across walls and around corners.

“Jennifer blazed a trail for younger artists, especially women artists, with the idea of ​​creating truly monumental installations with painting,” said Klaus Ottmann, curator of the Phillips Collection in Washington, in a 2013 interview with the New York Times.

Toward the end of her career, Ms. Bartlett painted scenes from her garden, views of the Manhattan hospital where she was recuperating, and a pointillist depiction of the September 11 terrorist attacks. She remained best known, however, for an earlier, more conceptual work: “Rhapsody,” a collection of 987 painted steel panels that filled the Paula Cooper Gallery when it was first shown in 1976. The Times art critic John Russell opened his review of the installation by calling it “the most ambitious single work of new art I’ve encountered while living in New York”.

Instead of using a traditional canvas, Ms. Bartlett made 1 square foot steel plates that she baked in white enamel. She then added a motif that became one of her trademarks, screen-printing a pale gray grid that she used to organize her images. Eventually she would add or remove abstract markings or geometric shapes (triangles, squares, circles, lines) or paint more elaborate pictures (a house, a tree, a mountain, the sea) using all the enamel paints sold at the Time from Testors, an art supply company.

Overall, “Rhapsody” was both playful and philosophical, serving as a catalog of sorts for the subjects, styles, colors, and shapes available to modern painters. “Mastering it from end to end is a unique adventure,” Russell wrote, “and by the time we’ve considered the 54 distinct blues that went into the final ‘Ocean’ section, we will have expanded our notions of time , and the memory, and the change, and the painting itself.”

Ms Bartlett said she invented the play over time and intended it to unfold like a conversation “where people digress from one thing and maybe get back on topic and then do the same thing with the next thing”. The installation was later acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which displayed “Rhapsody” in its atrium.

One of four children, Mrs. Bartlett was born Jennifer Ann Losch on March 14, 1941 in Long Beach, California. Her father owned a construction company and her mother was a former fashion illustrator. Ms. Bartlett was trying to make a different life for herself, drawing constantly as a young girl and dreaming – even at the age of 5 – of moving to New York to become a painter. After watching the Disney animated film Cinderella, she drew the fairytale princess around 500 times, saying, “All the same, but with different hair colors and clothes.”

Ms. Bartlett studied painting at Mills College in Oakland, California, graduating in 1963. She continued her art education at Yale University, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1964 and a Masters degree the following year. Her teacher Jack Tworkov, an abstract expressionist, introduced her to experimental young artists including Claes Oldenburg and Robert Rauschenberg, whose work opened up new directions in modern art for Ms. Bartlett.

As she later put it, “I had stepped into my life.”

While in college, she married medical student Ed Bartlett. For a time she commuted between her home in New Haven, Connecticut; her art studio in Manhattan; and the University of Connecticut, where she taught and slept in her office. This arrangement proved untenable, and after a few years she divorced and settled in SoHo, where she was part of an artist community that included Richard Serra, Chuck Close, and Jonathan Borofsky, who lived across the street.

“Art had to be new then,” she told Bomb magazine in 2005. “You had to take the next step.” To set herself apart from her peers, she collected found neighborhood objects (“rubber stoppers, plastic tiles, rope strands, red plastic teapots”) and baked, froze, dropped, painted, and smashed them into works of art . Inspired by subway signs, she then turned to steel plates.

By the mid-1980s, she was one of the country’s most prominent artists, with a retrospective of her work opening at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and touring the country. She was photographed for Vogue and Vanity Fair, profiled in The New Yorker, and began dividing her time between New York and Paris, where she lived with her second husband, German actor Mathieu Carrière, before their marriage dissolved.

She also branched out into poetry and prose, publishing an autobiographical novel entitled History of the Universe (1985). “The skin on the soles of my feet is rough,” she wrote in an impressionist passage. “I’m prone to alcohol, anxiety, upset stomach, moods, tentative optimism and inflammatory infections. I was analyzed unsuccessfully, although we both tried; the same applies to marriage.”

At the same time, she continued to undertake ambitious, large-scale art projects, including site-specific commissions for the lobby of a federal courthouse in Atlanta and the ceiling of a Buddhist temple in Japan. Her work has since been acquired by institutions such as the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in DC, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the Tate Modern in London.

Survivors include a daughter from her second marriage, Alice Carrière, and two sisters.

When Ms. Bartlett rented a villa on the French Riviera in the late 1970s, she began drawing and painting her view outdoors, eventually completing nearly 200 paintings for a series entitled “In the Garden.” Her later projects included “Sea Wall” (1985), an installation of ship paintings and sculptures that stretched more than 35 feet; AIR: 24 Hours (1991-92), which featured a painting for each hour of the day; and Recitative (2011), an installation of 372 painted steel panels that commemorates the seminal work that made it famous.

“Rather than refining things, I just make more,” she told People magazine, explaining her serial approach to art. “I can’t do anything.”

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