As this is the first exhibition of Berthot’s work since his death in December of 2014, the Gallery chose to feature Nympha Red, a major work only once exhibited in 1988 at the Rose Art Museum (Brandeis University). Painted in 1969, Nympha Red measures 60 ½ x 210 inches and is the ‘sister painting’ to another major horizontal painting, Walken's Ridge, 1975-6, in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. From these two paintings – painted early in his career – the titles alone indicate Berthot’s instinctive interest in both color and landscape.
Berthot began exhibiting in the mid-1960s, at a time when Abstract Expressionism, Pop and Minimalism were part of the aesthetic environment. Berthot’s early work was geometric and the color was subdued. Over the following years, his color intensified and the underlying grid opened to include an oval (some thought a portrait or a head). In 1992, Berthot moved to upstate New York where he wrote a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson on the wall of his new studio:
We may climb into the thin and cold realm of pure geometry and lifeless science, or sink into that of sensation.
Between these extremes is the equator of life, of thought, or spirit, or poetry – a narrow belt.
There, he began to incorporate the landscape into his paintings – the land that held him and demanded his care. Although his step away from abstraction to figuration seemed radical, the tenets that characterized his work remained the same: his torqued underlying grid, his distinctive brushwork (an admirer of Milton Resnick), and his sensitive color.
The artist died December 30, 2014 and bequeathed 12 works to the Phillips Collection, Washington DC. The bequest, along with works already in their collection, will be exhibited in the near future, dates to be announced.