Meet Eleonor Botoman, a freshman at Barnard College, who is majoring in English and Art History. We would like to congratulate Eleonor on being selected as one of three recipients of our Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker Foundation Scholarships for the Fall 2016 term. As part of the application process, Eleonor was asked to submit an essay response to a question about the Whitakers and their work. You can read Eleonor’s artist statement and essay below:
As a double major in English and Art History, I’ve set my sights on exploring the art world through art criticism. I currently attend Barnard College, a women’s college in New York City, and I’ve spent my first year studying art history and architecture, researching internship opportunities for next fall, and wrote for the Journal of Art Criticism (JAC). This new student publication had its first issue release in early May and I am currently writing more pieces to be published in the summer and fall semester. I’ve also contributed to Postcrypt Art Gallery, an organization atColumbia University that puts on themed exhibitions of student artwork covering a wide range of mediums from installations, digital design, paintings, and sculpture.
Being in New York, I’ve been able to discover new developments in the art world by exploring all of the museums and galleries just a few subway stops away, and my professors, experts in the art history and architecture field, have guided me through not only the history of art, but also where the future of art is going.
As I begin my writing classes in the fall, I’m eager to develop my writing skills and use the analytic knowledge I gain from English to produce criticisms and theories of my own. I want to question artistic choices, draw comparisons and relationships across movements, understand the artist’s influences and inspirations, and place contemporary works into greater historical contexts. The skills I learn in writing will help me articulate my ideas in ways as creative as the artists I choose to discuss. However, I don’t want to keep all of my learning strictly on-campus.
With the fall semester just a few months away, I’ve already begun applying to internships in different organizations in order to further immerse myself within the art world. Some of these organizations include Artsty.net, a website that not only produces articles but also keeps track of artists’ profiles and pieces as well as guides to auctions and various galleries. There is also Magnus, a new app that identifies the work of art you’re looking at and provides you with all of its information including the artist, the gallery it belongs to, and the current sale price. I am also looking to work for ArchDaily, an architecture journal that looks at up-and-coming architects, explores new developments in design, and studies the impact of contemporary projects (both residential and public works) on the world today.
Essay Question: Compare and contrast Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker’s watercolors depicting Mexican culture
Mexico has been a source of inspiration for many writers and artists over the years, from the Beat poets’ trips south of the border to Diego Rivera’s grand murals of indigenous people. The Whitakers felt this strong pull to Mexico, and captured their awe in beautiful watercolor paintings. Both Eileen and Frederic’s works project emotion into the viewer. The flickering effects of the watercolor evoke a bright Mexican energy. Frederic and Eileen’s pieces may share subject matter, but their individual perception of Mexico causes them to splinter into two subjects of focus: Eileen studies the Mexican people while Frederic documents the Mexican earth, bringing a narrative quality to the forefront of his compositions. In an exploration of their differences, the watercolor artists together produce a whole, richly dynamic image of the power of this Latin-American land.
Eileen Whitaker explores Mexico through its people. Her warm portraits use vivid color to bring a face to a kind of Latin-American energy. She captures moments of daily life, brightened with whites and reds. The figures themselves, however, stand almost rigid poses. She does not use Impressionist brushstrokes to create her pictures. Subjects are rendered to as close a realism that can come with watercolor paints, people documented as if each moment she sees is a photograph. Princess Mariposa (1989) captures the woman with a realistic lightness and her dreamy expression with the rainbow patterned fabrics of her traditional dress. However, there is no intense overlapping of motifs or color in the composition. The mural in the corner, the leaves, the hummingbird, and the butterflies that bloom from behind the woman are included as motifs to further emphasize her identity. The flat white wall ensures no distraction. Eileen sees the people and their lives as the true expression of Mexican tradition, worn in their clothing.
Frederic’s interpretation of the lives of Mexican people emits a more rugged and masculine quality. In the Poultry Merchant (1967), he uses rougher strokes, yet overlaps the washed out tones to create delicate shadows and streaks of sun-brightened white across the feathers. Unlike Eileen, he does not paint the Mexican people with emotion. The merchant’s face appears with only a few minimal strokes while the chickens, the blanket, and his handkerchief are rendered with precision. Eileen captures the expressive quality of the locals’ faces, punctuating their portraits with richly colored cloth, while Frederic defines the Mexican people by traditional objects they use in their lives, carrying into a greater narrative quality of his series of paintings. Two paintings show this documentary quality: Dawn, Nov 2nd (1968) and the Lettuce Pickers (1966).¹ One takes place on an urban street while the other shows men at work in the fields, however Frederic produces two very similar studies on the power of the Mexican landscape. Watercolor is not a painting medium that encourages exact lines so the artist must make the choice to place the most important aspect of the painting right at the foreground where the image can be meticulously rendered. In both Dawn, Nov 2nd and the Lettuce Pickers, he places Mexico at the forefront while the flickering forms of the people linger towards the background. Only one individual sits close to the viewer in Dawn, Nov 2nd, and it should be noted that he wears the most elaborate costume. The Lettuce Pickers appear as generalized forms as well, but in the foreground Frederic places a cardboard box in the corner as a symbol of their agricultural work. He brings the rows of lettuce forward before stretching them all the way towards back of the canvas, sending the viewer’s eye back into a vast and fertile land. Eileen shows individual identities but Frederic uses the Mexican people to create a larger history of a collective identity. Their faces have a formless quality, only enough to differentiate a person within a group. In the darkened daylight of Dawn, Frederic punctuates the men with bright yellow caps. In the Lettuce Pickers, hats play a similar role. This is a symbol of male traditional dress, a practical one that keeps them cool under the hot southern sun. The Lettuce Pickers could become faded into the monotony of the green field, but their bright hats emphasize their hard work. As with the boxes, the hats are a symbol of hardworking spirit, similar to Eileen’s representation of the women’s energy in electric fabrics.
A final point of contrast between the two artists arises with Frederic’s use of a darker palette. Eileen doesn’t shy away from duskier tones, but she prefers bright pinks to her husband’s shadowy blues. This comparison is drawn between two paintings: Eileen’s Se Vende Ajos (1990) and Frederic’s Flower Market (1977). Both pieces address the bustling Mexican marketplace, however there is variation within color schemes. Eileen’s painting projects warmth with hues of orange, reds, and purples. The figures are arranged so that each item for sale can be represented. Oranges and garlic are presented by the merchants and fabrics draping in the background are only partially blocked by the man in the center while the rest of their patterns are unobstructed. The scene is inviting, decorated for the viewer. Frederic’s work, on the other hand, shows a louder, busier scene. All of the shapes reduce in definition to enhance the frenzied setting. The women’s dresses merge together in tones of blues and purples. Sellers carry clouds of blossoms. The sky is darker, drawing attention to the flowers and the dynamic movement of the crowd. In Eileen’s painting, the man engages with the viewer, welcomes them into the selling space. Frederic places the viewer behind the women sitting in the shade with their children. They do not participate, perhaps because they cannot keep up with the chaos of the market, and the viewer is encouraged to observe in order to learn about the culture. Frederic’s paintings capture a dynamic story of Mexican life while Eileen’s works follow a more stagnant tradition of portraiture and elegant expression of culture.
¹Unbeknownst to the author, the setting for Frederic Whitaker’s watercolor painting “Lettuce Pickers” was Salinas, California, not Mexico, as suggested. This is an understandable misconception as the painting is included with collections featuring Mexico and Mexican culture, and details regarding where “Lettuce Pickers,” was painted were not available to the author as of the writing of this essay.