Jan 5, 2014
06:31 AM
Arts & Entertainment

Connecticut Exhibit Pairs Ammi Phillips Folk Art Portraits With Contemporary Works

Connecticut Exhibit Pairs Ammi Phillips Folk Art Portraits With Contemporary Works

A portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson by Duncan Hannah.

“Ammi Phillips (1788–1865) and Mark Rothko (1903–1970), two American masters disparate in time, place, and presentation, pursued the soul-thirsting creation of inner light through the 'realm of the canvas,' as Rothko once termed it,” says a description of the 2008-09 show The Seduction of Light: Ammi Phillips | Mark Rothko Compositions in Pink, Green, and Red at the American Folk Art Museum. “For Rothko, the surface of a canvas presented limitless space to be explored with intrepidity into great distances and with mythic dramas enacted in each succeeding layer. Phillips did not penetrate the “mysterious recesses” of the canvas quite as deeply but worked closer to the surface in shimmering light-filled or velvety dark-filled spaces that seem to exist apart from the known world. In their paintings, both Rothko and Phillips opened portals to a dimension where form was suspended in an ether of suffused atmosphere, and where the mysticism of light was coaxed into being primarily through the vehicle of color.”

Phillips, who was born in Colebrook and painted many of his  “correct likenesses” in Connecticut, was an artist ahead of his time—a folk artist with a distinctly Modern sensibility.

That quality makes it natural, and rich, to pair works by Phillips with paintings by contemporary artists, and a very fine example of just such a show is about to open at  The Gallery at the Sharon Historical Society in Litchfield County, which will offer the exhibit Mix It Up! …The New Meets the Old from Jan. 17 to Feb. 27. (Above, Phoebe Dowd Gay by Ammi Phillips.)

The show will feature five portraits by Phillips paired with contemporary portraits by Duncan Hannah, Pieter Lefferts, Patty Mullins, Robert Andrew Parker, Warren Prindle, Richard T. Scott and Peter Steiner. (Left, Midwinter Saint by Richard T. Scott.)

The exhibit opens with a reception and free cocktail party with the contemporary artists Jan. 17, from 5 to 7 p.m. 

“This year’s “Mix It Up” exhibit is designed to challenge the viewer to visually travel from early nineteenth century folk portraits of local Sharon residents painted by Phillips to contemporary portraits painted by Sharon (and other local) artists,” the historical society says of the show. “Phillips, known locally by various monikers including the ‘Kent Limner’, painted in the Northwest Corner of Connecticut in the mid-1830s. By that time he was well established as an artist of some note, painting his first portraits probably as early as 1809/1810 in the area of Pittsfield, MA. Phillips painted at least five residents of the town of Sharon, Calvin and Phoebe Dowd Day, John Cotton Smith, and Ira and Melissa Williams. It is extremely likely that there are more Phillips’ portraits of Sharon residents in private collections, unsigned and/or unidentified. An exhibit featuring 26 of his portraits was organized and curated by the Sharon Historical Society and presented at the Tremaine Gallery of the Hotchkiss School in 1999.”

In the exhibit, the five Phillips portraits in the museum collection will be displayed adjacent to the contemporary portraits, with the hope that viewers will “evaluate the meaning of portraiture beyond the realm of ‘work of art’, and into the role of portrait as visual entrée into the historic record."

The Sharon Historical Society and Museum is located at 18 Main Street in Sharon. For more information, call 860-364-5688 or see the website. Museum hours are Wednesday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and by appointment.


Connecticut Exhibit Pairs Ammi Phillips Folk Art Portraits With Contemporary Works

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