Plotlines

IDEAS, THEMES, & FORMS

PLOTLINE 3: BETTY WOODMAN / Alluding to Architecture

Francesca Woodman. Polka Dots, Providence,
Rhode Island, 1976. 4 11/16 x 3 7/8 in.
Gelatin silver print.

"Anything we have not had to decipher, to bring to light by our own effort, anything which was already clearly visible, is not our own.”

- Marcel Proust, Time Regained (1913)

Francesca Woodman. Polka Dots, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976.
5 5/16 x 6 1/4 in. Gelatin silver print.

Francesca Woodman. Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island,
1975-78. 5 3/16 x 5 5/16 in. Gelatin silver print.

"The side rooms and exterior spaces we glimpse through door cracks and windowpanes in Woodman’s pictures are not just natural extensions of the real space; they do not simply abut the familiar rooms. On the contrary, they seem to constitute a mysterious nowhere, a radical elsewhere whose disturbing presence, though palpable, is unfathomable."

Binotto, Johannes. "Outside In: Francesca Woodman's Rooms of Her Own." Francesca Woodman: Works from the Sammlung Verbund. Köln: Buchhandlung Walther König and New York: Artbook, 2014.

Images from left to right: Francesca Woodman. Untitled, Italy, 1977-78. 7 15/16 x 7 1/4 in. Gelatin silver print. /
Francesca Woodman. Untitled, Italy, 1977-78. 3 1/4 x 3 5/16 in. Gelatin silver print.

Francesca Woodman. Untitled, New York, 1979-80. 11 x 14 in. Gelatin silver print.

"Woodman–in manifest opposition to the reigning practices of artistic and photographic production of the late Sixties and Seventies from Conceptualism to Simulation–foregrounds precisely those dimensions that are in fact as integral to the photographic as its mechanical precision, its optical indexicality and immutability. Thereby the artist fulfills another of photography’s initial promises and singular qualifications,  to give us a ‘mirror with a memory.’ Woodman articulates precisely those processes that are seemingly inaccessible to the ‘bare’ eye of photographic optics, such as its capacity to trace the processes of changing light and movement, or its capacity to trace temporality, to make the passage of bodies through space immediately apparent.”

Buchloh, Benjamin H.D. "Francesca Woodman: Performing the Photograph, Staging the Subject." Francesca Woodman: Photographs 1975-1980. New York: Marian Goodman Gallery, 2004.

Francesca Woodman. Untitled, Antella, Italy, 1977-78.
3 7/8 x 3 7/8 in. Gelatin silver print.

"When Woodman shows herself in her pictures, she not only uses the rooms to stage herself and her body. The converse is also true: the artist uses her own body to illustrate the unusual spatial qualities of her scenes. The body is the medium that allows us to experience space…"

Binotto, Johannes. "Outside In: Francesca Woodman's Rooms of Her Own." Francesca Woodman: Works from the Sammlung Verbund. Köln: Buchhandlung Walther König and New York: Artbook, 2014.

Images from left to right: Francesca Woodman. Untitled, Rome, Italy, 1977-78. 4 5/8 x 4 9/16 in. Gelatin silver print. /
Francesca Woodman. Untitled, Rome, Italy, 1977-78. 3 7/8 x 3 7/8 in. Gelatin silver print.

Francesca Woodman. Untitled, Rome, Italy, 1977-78.
4 1/4 x 4 1/8 in. Gelatin silver print.

“It is this insistence of the paradoxical beyond that renders even a seemingly plain picture like the shot of a corner of a room profoundly disconcerting. In this instance, the mysterious out-of-field is present not in one but in two ways: there is, on the one hand, the blazing light streaming in through the windowpane, which does not let us see what is outside in the bright light of day; and, on the other hand, the darkness looming from the nook beneath the drywall construction; we cannot know how far this darkness extends."

Binotto, Johannes. "Outside In: Francesca Woodman's Rooms of Her Own." Francesca Woodman: Works from the Sammlung Verbund. Köln: Buchhandlung Walther König and New York: Artbook, 2014.

Francesca Woodman. Untitled, New York, 1979-80.
7 1/8 x 7 in. Gelatin silver print.

Francesca Woodman. After my grandmother's funeral, Providence,
Rhode Island, 1977. 5 x 5 1/8 in. Gelatin silver print.

Images from left to right: Francesca Woodman. Untitled, New York, 1979-80. 5 1/2 x 5 5/8 in. Gelatin silver print. /
Francesca Woodman. Untitled, New York, 1979-80. 5 5/8 x 5 5/8 in. Gelatin silver print.

“A while ago my pictures started getting smaller and smaller – now they are getting whiter and whiter soon there will just be small […] areas of glow.”

- Francesca Woodman

Francesca Woodman. Untitled, New York, 1979-80. 3 7/8 x 5 5/8 in. Gelatin silver print.

Francesca Woodman. Untitled, New York, 1979-80.
4 13/16 x 4 3/4 in. Gelatin silver print.

Please click on any image for a larger gallery view.

"Pattern may be the life-blood of decoration, but in turn its life is founded on the power of the mind. We should distinguish between pattern per se, as involving orderly principles of repetition coupled with symmetry, from merely pattern-like appearances. Excluded then are non-repetitive though symmetric forms such as heraldic devices, or fields of small forms without symmetry relationships such as the all-over paintings of Pollock or Tobey. The paradigms of pattern are printed wallpapers or serial friezes. For some Criss-Cross artists repetition is coupled to systemic change as expressed in progressions or fractal relationships.

George Woodman. Untitled, c. 1970. 52 x 52 in. Acrylic on canvas.

"The intellectual origin of pattern is obscured by the fact that many artists are now borrowing patterns from the great decorative traditions. The point is that no matter how extended the chain of copying, patterns must ultimately by invented by someone, somewhere. Pattern, like perspective, is both about and based upon the nature of space. Each pattern is hemmed about and subject to rigid and complex laws of geometry. To work with pattern, even if only adjusting and adapting, requires a kind of insight into form which can only be called a rational intuition. This is equally true for ... craftsmen making rugs or Amish ... piecing quilts. To suggest otherwise would be unwarranted condescension. Work with pattern represents an unparalleled process of development or modification of sensory form in conjunction with insight into abstract principles of organization. The mental aspect of pattern-making may be unverbalized and unconnected to other symbol systems, such as mathematics. Also, it is radically different in kind from more familiar psychological aspects of art production such as emotion or desire. Patterns cannot be willed or felt into existence."

George Woodman. "Pattern." Criss-Cross Art Communications, Issue 10, 1979.

George Woodman in his studio, Tuscany, Italy, 1966.

"Woodman created the first of his fully developed systemic pattern paintings in 1966. 'My paintings were based on systems that determined a pattern, and then determined a color system,' Woodman said. This analytical bent is also reflected in his method of painting during this period which is marked by a meticulously crisp handling of the paint.

It is with these mid-1960s paintings that Woodman established himself as a pioneer nationally in the pattern painting movement—later called 'P&D' (pattern and decoration) which would become an important current in contemporary art ten years later, in the 1970s. But Woodman never felt a part of the P&D movement because, though he was painting patterns, they were only incidentally decorative, the color schemes having been generated through the formulas. 'I saw pattern as a kind of minimalism. My paintings were intellectual and rigorous, simple, yet rich and complex,' Woodman said."

Michael Paglia. “The Paintings and Photographs of George Woodman.” George Woodman: Sensuality in a World of Reason. Boulder: Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, 1998.

Details of Trajan’s Column, 1966. / George Woodman. Trajan’s Column, 1966. 30 x 180 in. Acrylic on canvas.

Please click on any image for a larger gallery view and details.

"In this year in Italy, abstraction was confirmed at every turn from Romanesque inlay to the high geometry of Alberti. 'Cosmati' was a type of 13th century floor mosaic with circles and serpentines. I learned what I could from it all."

George Woodman. George Woodman: Paintings 1960-2000. Omaha: Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, 2006.

Cosmati tile detail Cattedrale di Anagni, Anagni, Italy. © Museo della Cattedrale di Anagni.

George Woodman. Cosmati, 1966. 60 x 60 in. Oil paint on canvas.

"The pictorial elements of Woodman’s pattern paintings are an asymmetrical geometric shape or a set of interlocking shapes, that are repeated in an all-over arrangement. The ancient floors of Italian churches and public buildings, which likewise are made up of all-over patterns of interlocking multi-colored shape, and which Woodman was and is very familiar with, may well have been an inspiration for his pattern paintings. But though it was in Italy, in 1966, that Woodman made what he calls a 'distinctive move' toward pattern painting, the die was cast only after a visit to Spain. 'A trip to the Alhambra in 1966, while it was not used as a source for pattern, convinced me absolutely that an art of purely pattern could be important, complete, rich,' Woodman has written."

Michael Paglia. “The Paintings and Photographs of George Woodman.” George Woodman: Sensuality in a World of Reason. Boulder: Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, 1998.

George Woodman. Untitled, 1969. 48 x 48 in. Acrylic on canvas.

"Another constant is to be found in Woodman’s penchant for pattern, geometry, and architectonic frontally, elements of his affinity with the art of the Italian Quattrocento and Cinquecento and of classical antiquity. And at every stage there is the intriguing intimation of puzzles that have been solved but whose solutions are never obvious to the viewer."

Robert Berlind. “George Woodman’s Paintings.” George Woodman: Paintings 1960-2000. Omaha: Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, 2006.

Detail of George Woodman. Untitled, 1968. 22 1/2 x 30 in. Screenprint on paper /
George Woodman. Untitled, 1968. 22 1/2 x 30 in. Screenprint on paper.

George Woodman. Untitled, 1966-68. 40 x 40 in. Acrylic on canvas.

"The shift in the mid-60s to patterned abstraction may be seen as a reprise of the transition earlier in the century from a still-descriptive cubism to a 'purer' non-referentiality. These paintings are equally in keeping with the cooler contemporaneous interests of Op Art and made a crucial contribution to the Criss-Cross movement which flourished during the 70’s in Boulder and had an impact on the New York scene."

Robert Berlind. “George Woodman’s Paintings.” George Woodman: Paintings 1960-2000, Omaha: Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, 2006.

George Woodman. Untitled, 1967. 48 x 48 in. Acrylic on canvas.

"I contemplated the properties of hexagons. Five triangles can be combined to create an elbow shape and two mirror images of these shapes make an arrow form. These can be arranged on a field of hexagons so as to completely cover it without overlapping, thus creating what, in mathematics, is called a 'tessellation.' For two and a half years my work was based on this arrow form, trying variations in size, number of repetitions, and its reading as three-dimensional, all with different color harmonies and qualities of surface. Eventually with these forms, I composed images of clouds, mists, islands and the sea. It was a remarkable experience."

George Woodman. George Woodman: Paintings 1960-2000. Omaha: Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, 2006.

George Woodman. Homage to the Hexagon, 1971. 66 x 66 in. Acrylic on canvas.

George Woodman discussing his work on the occasion of George Woodman: Paintings 1960-2000, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Omaha, Nebraska, 2007. © Woodman Family Foundation.

"George Woodman, who became a key member of Criss-Cross, used tessellations as his preferred vehicle of experimentation. In mathematics and life alike, tessellation refers to the covering of a flat plane with geometric shapes—tiles—that match up along their edges to cover the surface, never overlapping. Beginning in the early 1970s with elegant, modestly sized acrylic paintings, Woodman focused on periodic tiling—patterns that, when extended across a plane (say a floor, wall, or canvas), repeat regularly in all directions without overlaps or gaps. For Woodman, unlike other types of patterns, these infinitely extendable tessellations suppress figure-ground relationships thus emphasizing part to part continuity in favor of part to whole relationships. In this democracy of parts, 'composition' is sidestepped since the elements have no hierarchical relationship to each other, or a field, beyond their common participation in some combinatorial system which is in principle boundless in extension."

Rebecca Skafsgaard Lowery. “Infinite Progress: Criss-Cross and the Gender of Pattern Painting.” With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972-1985. Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2019.

George Woodman. A Gentle Tesselation, 1970. 48 x 48 in. Oil paint on canvas.

"Pattern has been the fundamental motivation in George Woodman’s painting—and extensions out of painting—since the middle 1960s. More specifically, Woodman has concentrated on a kind of modular non-objective patterning, in which firmly defined units interlock with one another in tessellated formations. The basic formula is that simple, but the many variations Woodman has developed provide a broad range of visual modality."

Peter Frank. 19 Artists—Emergent Americans. New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1981.

George Woodman. Untitled, c. 1971-73. 32 x 32 in. Acrylic on canvas.

George Woodman. Tessellation Sky, 1975. 54 1/2 x 54 1/2 in. Acrylic on canvas.
From the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

"For George Woodman, the 'rational' pattern painters of the (Criss-Cross) collective were different than the 'decorative' painters of P&D in that the former eschewed 'sentimental or sophisticated chic, and the cult of personal expression.' Pattern was not limited to the realm of the theoretical for Woodman, who avowed that the paradigms of pattern in the decorative world were manifest in wallpaper and serial friezes; it was all over designs without symmetry that should be dismissed as 'merely pattern-like.'"

Rebecca Skafsgaard Lowery. “Infinite Progress: Criss-Cross and the Gender of Pattern Painting.” With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972-1985. Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2019.

George Woodman. Val di Chiani, 1977. 79 x 82 in. Acrylic on canvas.

"Form plays a prominent role—and an idiosyncratic one, considering how Woodman struggled to raise his allover compositional mode above the level of mere decoration. He built on the positive-negative ambiguity of interlocking patterns as far back as 1966; more recently, Woodman has superimposed two independent patterns in the search for a modulated counterpoint. And recently too, Woodman has broken his unwritten vow of non-objectivity by introducing representational silhouettes into his pastel-toned jigsaw puzzles.

The twin emphases of form and color come together most forcefully in the various paper tile installations Woodman has realized since 1978. Literally building on ideas inherent in things as common as children’s block games, Woodman has created a kind of 'endless tessellation,' one that refers almost mockingly to the wallpaper-like function to which detractors once assigned Woodman’s and others’ patterned art."

Peter Frank. 19 Artists—Emergent Americans. New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1981.

George Woodman. Wooster Diptych, 1978. Two panels, 71 x 59 in. Acrylic on canvas.

"The paper tilings literally constitute a physical realization of a new approach to thinking about pattern that came about in the paintings of the summer of 1978. It was then that what I have called nonperiodic patterns were first used. These are constructed of identical repeated forms to produce configurations which in themselves do not repeat. From one area to another, the perceptual gestalt may be very different, although the tiles in each are identical. In the Wright State pieces, there is a constant flirtation with paradox. From one part to another, the pieces are unpredictable in the way that the larger forms read. Yet beneath this, there is a high degree of similarity in all of the components. In some respects this is exactly the opposite of normal perceptual situations in which the idiosyncrasies of the individual are lost in the uniformity of the crowd."

George Woodman. "Art and Methodology." Paper Tilings. Dayton: Wright State University Galleries, 1982.

All images from Paper Tilings by George Woodman, Wright State University Galleries, 1982.

"My paintings have consisted of a field of repeated forms derived from the grid. They could be described as pictures of possible tiles. Frequently working in Italy, I was influenced by both Roman and medieval mosaic. In 1966, I went to Spain and visited the Alhambra with its precious Moorish tiling from about 1300. I understood for the first time that tile could be an art form as profound, complex and moving as any other. Since then I have had the opportunity of studying tile in Turkey, Morocco and India, as well as in those great centers for tile, Portugal and Mexico."

– George Woodman, 2015

Tile detail Alhambra, Granada, Spain.

"In 1978, the pattern elements of my painting finally led to embracing tile, but not in ceramics. I had designs printed in black on squares of white paper, which could then be arranged as a temporary 'tiling' on a floor or a wall. These 'paper tilings' were eventually presented as “installations” in art galleries. Between 1979 and 1983, I was invited to several art schools in which I collaborated with students to paint hundreds of paper tiles, which were then assembled in large colorful murals or floor designs. This gave me the possibility of wide experience in tile design without involvement in ceramics. My first real tile commission came from Betty in 1982, when she persuaded me to tile the walls and floor of our bathroom. It was a thrilling initiation into the world of true ceramic tile."

– George Woodman, 2006

George Woodman's tile installation at home in Antella, Italy.

"My tile is NOT intended to be seen from a specific 'viewpoint,' to be 'taken in' like a picture or a painting, but to be grasped by a viewer in motion, in passing and from various perspectives. Thus it has a temporal dimension, in a way is cinematic. It is designed to be rewarding when only glimpsed in part or while doing other things. The designs have a deliberate redundancy so that if a portion of the tile wall is obscured by a person standing before it or a momentary reflection from shifting light upon it, the overall integrity of the experience is not diminished."

– George Woodman, 2007

George Woodman, ceramic tile installation, 1984, Delavan-Canisius College Station, NFTA-Metro, Buffalo, NY.

"In the second Detroit murals of 2003, I created a module made up of 10 different tiles. When I came to design the panels, I began to break and fracture the modules, to use them in a way in which they wouldn’t 'work,' the lines would not flow so smoothly from one tile into the next. I had the 'rules' of a modular system but in a deliberate way broke the rules with some frequency. I became interested in the appearance of “mistakes” in tilings encountered in places as diverse as the colored cement tiles, circa 1910, in apartment floors in Naples or in Indian houses where a few left-over tiles from some other project are often tossed in to fill some gaps. The impact of these unpredictable events have a kind of beauty not found in the 'correct' pattern in which they occur. To my eye at this point in my life, a tight pattern seems coercive, restrictive. In these murals there is an element of capriciousness, a playing of the rules against themselves. It seems like dissonance and harmony in music. Order and disorder, balance and imbalance, humor, surprises and even jokes are now appreciated. Logic is still of fundamental importance, but there is plenty which is allowed to escape its grasp."

– George Woodman

George Woodman, ceramic tile mural for the Renaissance Center Station, Downtown People Mover, Detroit, Michigan, 1987/2004.

Please click on any image for a larger gallery view and details.

"This journey of ours through the extensive oeuvre of Betty Woodman reveals a growing movement, freed from the functional object and centered upon the ornamental object, which gradually established itself as a sculptural construction and support for painting, eventually reaching a monumental dimension in installations that structure architectural spaces and in great uninterrupted continuations of arabesques formed from cutout shapes, full of signs and colors.

This crescendo is not only achieved in the re-interpretation of ceramics as an artistic practice and in the enlargement of the scale of the pieces, but above all through the application of new concepts. We see Betty Woodman beginning with a functionalist attitude, later evolving to a poetic search based on the metaphor of the container as a mythical object, extending its territory to include problems of spatiality, objects that use ceramics as a medium for sculptural and pictorial interventions, and then to its functionalization in architectural spaces, giving substance, with the greatest possible vitality, to her scenographic impulse in installations that envelop us and confront us in a monumental fashion."

Paulo Henriques. Betty Woodman: Teatros. Théâtres. Theaters. Milano: Skira Editore, 2005.

Please click on any image for a larger gallery view and details.

Betty Woodman. Cloistered Arbor Room, 1981. 10 x 23 ft. Glazed earthenware, epoxy resin, lacquer, fabric. Installation views, The Elizabeth Reed Keller Memorial Exhibition, Usdan Gallery, Bennington College, Vermont, 1981. © Charles Woodman.

"With the piece entitled ‘Cloistered Arbor Room’ from 1981, Betty Woodman expands the concept of the wall piece, understood as a single visual field, to become that of the installation, an inhabited space in a composition that envelops the spectator and obliges [her] to move in order to completely understand the piece, in this case an architectural volume whose interior is reached through a narrow door powerfully decorated with excessive baroque exuberance. Inside, the walls were rhythmically marked by the shapes of numerous bases with columns, in what amounts to a spatial ambiguity both on the inside and outside, with vases placed in the center.

With ‘The Aspen Garden Room,’ from 1984, the relationship between the interior and exterior becomes more complex, inviting the spectator to enter a terrace, the door flanked on the inside by two Italian Windows, the low wall decorated on the inner and outer faces with illusions to balustrades."

Paulo Henriques. Betty Woodman: Teatros. Théâtres. Theaters. Milano: Skira Editore, 2005.

Images from left to right: Betty Woodman. Aspen Garden Room, 1984. 8 x 10 x 11 ft. Glazed earthenware, epoxy resin, lacquer, fabric. Installation views, Aspen Art Museum, Colorado, 1984. © Charles Woodman.

"Amy Sherlock:…In a way, ‘Summer House’ is a return to much earlier pieces such as ‘Aspen Garden Room’ [1984]. You create the illusion of a space with objects—columns, frames—that suggest an architecture, but which aren’t quite functional.

Betty Woodman: It’s also about the illusion of scale. It’s not really architecture: it’s alluding to that, it’s about that, but it’s smaller than reality.

AS: Yes, with ‘Aspen Garden Room’ I felt that particularly acutely because I’m tall and I had to really stoop to get in there.

BW: Exactly, stooping is part of it. I didn’t want it to be a real room that you could inhabit, but an array of different elements—materials and forms—that suggest how a room is constructed.

AS: It reminds me of ‘Livia’s Garden Room’ at Palazzo Massimo in Rome—a beautiful, whole-room fresco of a garden scene that they found while excavating the villa of Emperor Augustus’s wife, Livia, just outside the city. There are certain trompe l’oeil details, like a little fence and a garden wall; you feel as though you could be outside although the room was actually subterranean."

A conversation between Amy Sherlock and Betty Woodman. "Feel More." Frieze Magazine, Mar. 2016.

Images from left to right: Betty Woodman. Italian Window #11, 1984. 54 x 33 x 9 in. Glazed earthenware. © Charles Woodman / Installation view, With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972 – 1985, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, California, 2019. Courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California. © Charles Woodman.

"The windows—with their ceramic flower boxes and simple, gestural swags of clay that define the shape of the implied wall opening—have a particular relevance for Woodman’s larger, more complex architectural projects: They retain their integrity as functional objects yet refer directly to the time-honored tradition of using ceramics for architectural ornamentation, a practice too easily dismissed or ignored in our own era."

Judith Tannenbaum. Somewhere Between Naples and Denver. Philadelphia: ICA Philadelphia, 1992.

Betty Woodman. Somewhere Between Denver and Naples, 1988. 74 x 86 x 11 in. Glazed earthenware. Collection of Denver Art Museum, Colorado. Installation views left to right: ICA Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1992 / Denver Art Museum, Colorado, 1988 / ICA Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1992 / Denver Art Museum, Colorado, 1988 / Denver Art Museum, Colorado, 2006. Courtesy Denver Art Museum. © Charles Woodman.

"Betty Woodman designed a ceramic courtyard installation expressly for the Denver Art Museum. ‘Somewhere Between Naples and Denver’ derives its title from her life and work in her studios in Boulder, New York, and Florence, Italy. The one-of-a-kind installation was inspired by the courtyard of the Church of Santa Chiara in Naples."

Betty Woodman: Somewhere Between Naples. Denver Art Museum, 1988.

"In the current Denver environment, [a]…comprehensive, luxuriant room within a nondescript, sterile museum room, Woodman’s declared purpose, to 'challenge the museum or gallery’s existence as a container,' seems secondary to her creation, within the container, of an effect of paradise, with it’s magical sense of 'naturalness' made esthetically elusive. The whole installation is in fact an architectural conceit that defies the neutrality of the museum space not simply in its expressive, coloristic character, but through its deliberate daring to assert joie de vivre in a place that has often been described as a mausoleum and experienced in an all too solemn way.  

The installation is, indeed, as its title , that is, in the never-never land of imagination, where alone we can fully flourish. If we say that Naples represents the pleasure (and art)principle in Woodman’s life, and Denver the reality principle, then the work is a form of pleasure situated in an all too real space. I mean this quite literally: what strikes me about the installation is the starkness of the whitewalls in contrast to the lushness and esthetic complexity of the ceramic elements that finesse those walls. Woodman has the power to give the real walls imaginative flavor—to make them function as the walls of a hortus conclusus [enclosed garden]—through her deployment of her ceramic elements."

Donald Kuspit. Betty Woodman’s Ceramic Environment. Denver Art Museum.

Betty Woodman. Denver International Airport Balustrade, Colorado, 1993. Second and third installation views: Courtesy Denver International Airport. © Charles Woodman.

"Functional ceramics have always integrated shape, volume, and surface decoration—unlike painting and sculpture, which usually draw distinctions and establish hierarchies between two- and three- dimensional modes. It thus seems natural for Woodman to extend herself into the realm of architecture, which, like ceramics, is rooted in the practical concerns of daily life as opposed to the purely aesthetic or nonfunctional orientation of painting and sculpture. Creating public spaces that will enrich our daily lives by fusing the fine and applied arts is a noble goal. In fact, Woodman is currently working on her first public art commission—a project for the new Denver airport that replaces several sections of the balcony railing or balustrade. It seems likely that she will bring to this public situation the aesthetic ingenuity, vitality, and generosity of spirit that permeate each of her pots and transform a museum gallery into a contemplative and vibrant garden—as ‘Somewhere between Naples and Denver.’"

Judith Tannenbaum. Somewhere Between Naples and Denver. Philadelphia: ICA Philadelphia, 1992.

Images left to right: Betty Woodman. Balustrade Vase #5, 1994. 61 x 64 x 9 in. Glazed earthenware, epoxy resin, lacquer / Betty Woodman. Balustrade Relief Vase #10, 1995/2010. 105 x 105 x 9 in. Bronze, patina. Photo by Jeff Elstone. © Charles Woodman.

"I suppose I would include in this category the marvelous balustrade vases, explicitly so called. Ranked as in a chorus—or in a row like caryatides—the balustrade vases are pressed into a kind of architectural service to which they are suited, to be sure, but to which the mere form and none of the traditional function of the vase contribute."

Arthur Danto. Betty Woodman. Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 1996.

"The idea for these works came, the artist says, from the vase-shaped silhouettes found in the negative spaces of many staircase balustrades. Compounding the formal complexity, the false fronts of the “Balustrade” vases often feature painted images of vase and their edges are sometimes shaped as vessel-like silhouettes. Ideas of the vase as a skin or structural support are turned inside-out as the works compound flat, solid and fractured representations of themselves."

Michael Duncan. "Woodman's Decorative Impulse." Art in America, Nov. 2006.

Betty Woodman. Il Giardino Dipinto, 1993. 108 x 420 in. Glazed earthenware, epoxy resin, lacquer, paint. Courtesy of the RISD Museum, Providence, Rhode Island. © Charles Woodman.

"This large architectural installation was inspired by a fresco painting called ‘Il Giardino Dipinto’ from the living room of the House of the Golden Bracelet in Pompeii, a thriving ancient Roman city buried and preserved by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE. The fresco was sent to Florence for restoration, where it was displayed at the Palazzo Vecchio in the early 1990s and seen by Woodman.

Woodman took the idea of classical clay vessels and the spaces between and around them as her subject and created an environment. Because most of the ceramic components are flat, the viewer may have the experience of being simultaneously inside the architectural framework looking out and outside looking in. The composition is animated by the placement of pots, vases, shelves, and handles, as well as by the fluid contours of their shapes and the bold patterns of color applied to them. By deconstructing the vessels into their various parts – neck, body, foot, handle, spout – Woodman underscores the functions of traditional pottery while at the same time abstracting the forms."

Betty Woodman: Il Giardino Dipinto. Providence: RISD Museum, 2005.

Installation detail, Ruffoli, Tusciaelecta Arte Contemporanea nel Chianti, Florence, Italy, 1996.

"But as the scope of Woodman’s work has evolved and expanded over the course of more than five decades of constant experimentation, her use of negative space has changed, too, and the nature of the active presence that Schjeldahl describes has become more complex, more narrative in scope. The increasing centrality of the wall has played an important role in this process, which should not come as a surprise given that Woodman has also demonstrated a keen and idiosyncratic interest in architecture, both as pictorial subject and as an activated factor in any successful installation. On numerous occasions she has produced site-specific works for non-gallery environments…"

Stuart Krimko. Betty Woodman: Theatre of the Domestic. Milan: Mousse Publishing, 2016.

Artworks from left to right: Betty Woodman. Villa Oplontis, 2006. 45 x 121 x 11 in. Terra sigillata, canvas, glazed earthenware, epoxy resin, lacquer, wood. Installation view, Pattern, Decoration and Crime, MAMCO, Geneva, Switzerland, 2018. Photo by Annik Wetter. Courtesy MAMCO Geneva / Betty Woodman. Ceramic Pictures of Roman Vases: Vividareum, 2007. 95 x 84 x 10.5 in. Canvas, terra sigillata, glazed earthenware, epoxy resin, lacquer, paint / Betty Woodman. Ceramic Pictures of Roman Vases: Internal Courtyard, 2007. 95 x 85 x 12 in. Canvas, terra sigillata, glazed earthenware, epoxy resin, lacquer, paint. © Charles Woodman / Views of Villa Oplontis, Torre Anuziata, Italy.

"Woodman has long taken inspiration from wall paintings of homes in ancient Rome, in which trompe-l’oeil outdoor views augment the living space with pictorial depth. In these works, the artist goes further and inverts these mechanisms, creating sculptural objects with painted images, and vice versa. And where she does not imitate them, she imagines carpets and tables, vases and rooms: the works in this series elude the expectations of the viewer, moving freely in their use of materials and forms of representation."

Vincenzo de Bellis. Betty Woodman: Theatre of the Domestic. Milan: Mousse Publishing, 2016.

"The visual stimulus for the Roman Paintings was a trip to Rome in June 2005 to study Baroque Roman churches. I chanced upon the church of Santa Brigida and was intrigued by the patterns of the illusory painting of marble that covers the walls. Roman baroque church interiors seem to be focused on color and on breaking out of the geometry in contrast to Renaissance Florentine churches, where grey and white coolness and order are predominant. I have become more courageous as a painter and these new Roman Paintings are increasingly about the interplay of the painting on the canvas and the ceramic elements fastened to it."

Betty Woodman, interview with Patterson Sims. Betty Woodman: Teatros. Théâtres. Theaters. Milano: Skira Editore, 2005.

View of Villa Oplontis, Torre Anuziata, Italy.

"One makes large objects by putting together many small parts. Each wall image is a literal reflection of the three-dimensional vases which occupy the space in front of the wall. The viewer participates by moving past the piece. I have thought about Roman wall painting where there are illusions of architectural views which always contain images of pottery on pictorial walls. How can I trigger the memory of something experienced, dreamed or imagined?"

Betty Woodman. Betty Woodman: Between Sculpture and Painting. Fort Dodge: Blanden Memorial Art Museum, 1999.

Betty Woodman. Roman Fresco/Pleasures and Places, 2010. Approximately 18.5 x 16 x 12.5 ft. Glazed earthenware, epoxy resin, lacquer, paint, canvas, wood. Installation views, American Academy in Rome. Photos by Bruno Bruchi. © Charles Woodman.

"Recently, I have been looking at Roman Frescos and various other wall paintings where images of architecture are painted on the actual walls. These give the illusion, with their columns and windows, of architecture within architecture. I have also observed how often these frescos include images of vases. My reinterpretations of these include a painted canvas, mounted on a wall to which fragments of ceramic in low relief are then applied—a ‘painting.’ Usually, there is a three-dimensional ceramic vase situated in front of or placed on a shelf mounted on the canvas, turning the whole composition into a sculptural space. The most recent of these, entitled ‘Room Series,’ complicate the spatial illusions by implying an opened up distant view or perspective."

Betty Woodman, 2010

Betty Woodman. The Vase with Pink Flowers and The Yellow Vase, 2010. 85 x 181 x 12 in. Glazed earthenware, canvas, wood, acrylic paint. © Charles Woodman

"George was a painter all those years. I looked at a lot of painting. I listened to a lot of painters talk. I absorbed all this. It was harder for me, in a way, to come to appreciate sculpture, even though I was working three-dimensionally. The “Rooms” really came about through looking and thinking about that whole era of Modernist painting. Bonnard really had a big influence on me. And Matisse. You’re in the room but you’re looking out the window, you’re seeing beyond the room. In those pieces, instead of having it all be flat, I’m dealing with space. And it’s a heady experience."

Betty Woodman, interview with Barry Schwabksy. Betty Woodman. New York: Salon 94 and Skira, 2011.

Betty Woodman. The Summer House, 2015. 94 1/3 x 338 1/2 x 12 in. Glazed earthenware, epoxy resin, lacquer, acrylic paint, canvas, wood.
Second installation view: Theatre of the Domestic, ICA London, 2016. Photo by Mark Blower. Courtesy ICA London. © Charles Woodman / Other views: Photos by Bruno Bruchi. © Charles Woodman.

"Katharine Stout: I know that being restricted to one discipline or medium—or indeed one definition of what it means to be an artist—is something you’re dismissive of, and I wondered if there was anything in this to relate to the Italian Quattrocento artists for whom moving between different disciplines, for instance architecture, painting, sculpture, or tapestry design was standard. What has being in Florence and that region of Italy meant for you and your work?

Betty Woodman: Quite a lot. Certainly the wall paintings, frescoes, and painting within architecture. And the window not just being a hole, but embellished. The same with a door. And the flowerpot, the lemon pot, absolutely conceived of as part of architecture. Certainly the influence of ceramics as an embellishment of architecture, alongside della Robbia’s legacy and the color of Etruscan ceramics, and the crudity of the way they’re made, the way they’re put together—it’s direct and coarse, and I like that."

Interview with Katharine Stout. Betty Woodman: Theatre of the Domestic. Milan: Mousse Publishing, 2016.

Artworks from left to right: Betty Woodman. Courtyard Morning, 2016. 94.5 x 85 x 12.5 in. Glazed earthenware, epoxy resin, lacquer, acrylic paint, canvas / Betty Woodman. Noon, 2016. 94 x 86 x 13 in. Glazed earthenware, epoxy resin, lacquer, acrylic paint, canvas / Betty Woodman. Dusk, 2016. 94.5 x 86 x 12 in. Glazed earthenware, epoxy resin, lacquer, acrylic paint, canvas / Betty Woodman. Courtyard Evening, 2016. 98 x 85.5 x 8 in. Glazed earthenware, epoxy resin, lacquer, acrylic paint, canvas/ Betty Woodman. Courtyard: Pontormo, 2016. 110 x 84 x 10 in. Glazed earthenware, epoxy resin, lacquer, acrylic paint, canvas / Betty Woodman. Courtyard: Van Gogh, 2016. 96 x 84 x10 in. Glazed earthenware, epoxy resin, lacquer, acrylic paint, canvas. Photos by Bruno Bruchi. © Charles Woodman.

"In Roman wall painting there’s often an image of an exterior. There are many examples of this in Pompeii. Modernists like Bonnard and Matisse paint a window with a view. In Italy, a palazzo’s outside is a façade, a mystery, but the inside opens up, one courtyard leads into another—there’s no front yard with flowers, as in America. Here, I’m bringing my life together."

Betty Woodman, interview with Vibhuti Patel. Wall Street Journal, 2013.

Betty Woodman. Liverpool Fountain, 2016. At George’s Dock Ventilation Tower Plaza, Liverpool, England. Permanent public artwork originally commissioned by Liverpool Biennial. Photos by Joel Chester Fildes. © Charles Woodman.

"Woodman’s commission for Liverpool Biennial 2016 is a large-scale public artwork, a bronze fountain, which refers to classical imagery and architectural decoration. This can be found next to George's Dock Ventilation Tower, as part of Liverpool Biennial’s Ancient Greece episode. Her work refers to classical imagery and architectural decoration, combining sources that include Greek and Etruscan sculpture, Minoan and Egyptian art, Italian Baroque architecture and the paintings of Bonnard, Picasso and Matisse. Woodman’s vessels, floor sculptures, montages and wall murals will also be displayed across numerous other locations and episodes."

Liverpool Biennial, 2016.

Video: Courtesy Liverpool Biennial, 2016.

Video: Courtesy Liverpool Biennial, 2016.