tracy verkerke

    re-envisioning the founders: t.j., george, & martha  

This exhibit collects new work that peels back the formal conventions of 18th century portraiture to expose the sensuality and spontaneity of George Washington, Martha Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
The dynamism of these founding figures is invisible, frozen in the formal painting style of the 1700s. This formality obscures the vital character of these Revolutionary icons.

When I read that Abigail Adams said about George Washington, “No finer cut of man walks the earth,” I immediately began to imagine what physical traits would have warranted such praise. His wife Martha Dandridge Washington was no less remarkable. In a recent biography, Patricia Brady describes our first First Lady as a “pocket Venus” whose wedding shoes were avant-garde, royal purple silk, high-heeled shoes imported from France—the Manolo Blahniks of her day. Finally, in The American Sphinx, Joseph J. Ellis synthesizes various physical descriptions of Thomas Jefferson into the following evocative image: “[He was] a tall and slim young Virginian, with reddish blond hair and a self-consciously diffident air, lounging nonchalantly in his seat, singing to himself…. He tended to tie [his hair] behind his neck much as he sat, loosely and with an air of disheveled informality.”

These descriptions inspired me to create new portraits that express the vibrant physical qualities hidden behind the conventional period portraiture with which we are all familiar. Source imagery includes Michelangelo’s David, Rodin’s The Thinker, the pop imagery of Marilyn Monroe and the original Betsy Ross flag. I chose oil paints, raw linen and quilting techniques that resonate with the Revolutionary period.

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