Jennifer Bartlett emerged in the mid-1970s to become one of the leading American artists of her time, and one of the first female painters of her generation to be both commercially successful and critically acclaimed. Often early professional success overshadows an artist’s subsequent development. In Bartlett’s case, however, the mid-1970s were merely a point of departure for an exceptionally prolific and inventive career, succeeded by various bodies of work that exhaustively explored new methods and media, extended the artist’s vocabulary into sculpture, drawing, and printmaking, and led to designs for theater and film that demonstrate her innovative synthesis of diverse sources and styles.
For Bartlett, the center of her universe is the house, which first appeared as a major pictogram in House Piece (1970). Bartlett’s works embody quintessential ideals of the American way of life, using serialized geometric forms to create familiar objects that recall the American homescape—a house, a tree, a white picket fence—along with literal painterly shapes, lines, or brushstrokes. But the seeming happiness and simplicity of even her most idyllic imagery and most innocent words should not be trusted. Things are always on the edge of slipping, crashing, or dying in Bartlett’s paintings.
Moving freely back and forth from abstraction to figuration and constantly exploring new materials, combining plate paintings with paintings on canvas, Bartlett has remained true to her vision of painting as a process with unending possibilities. She continues to experiment, always willing to subvert and unsettle the seeming happiness and simplicity of her imagery and to break the rules that she invented more than forty years ago.