Behind the Scenes: How “Rosie” Came to Be

“Rosie” brings together the vibrant abstract works of Jane LaFarge Hamill and the visual meditations of Jason Bereswill. What at first may appear as two distinct bodies of work are actually parallel explorations of the possibilities of “space” conceived while the artists were expecting their first baby, Rose.

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“We wanted to work on a  show together for the duration of the pregnancy,” Bereswill explains. “And a lot of our ideas came to us when thinking about how to deal with space.”

For Hamill, this implied both the challenge of working on smaller surfaces and the opportunity opened up by adopting virtual reality (VR). A graduate of the New York Academy of Art, Hamill started her career as a figurative painter. “At the academy I was doing a lot of renderings and portraits,” she explains.“But I got to a point where I could no longer communicate what I wanted with figurative work.”

One day, as Hamill was working on a figurative composition and feeling stuck, a mentor asked her to hold it up and smash it with another canvas. That highly-charged exchange acted as creative catalyst. “I think that breaking the figure that way really loosened everything up,” she says. “That was the starting point that got me where I am now.”  

Indeed, her abstract oil paintings, featuring vivid colors and thick brushstrokes, have an explosive quality that would be hard to convey with figurativism. For “Rosie,” the artist turned the lifestyle changes that came with her pregnancy into an artistic project. “I used to work on large canvases while standing,” she says “But while pregnant I had to work on smaller surfaces while sitting down.” The end result is a series of small but emotionally dense compositions that feel like a distillation of her larger works.  

Hamill’s abstractions are juxtaposed with Bereswill grounded meditations. His “Ivy” series invites the viewer to get lost in the hypnotic repetition of trailing ivy leaves that seem to suggest a feeling of obstruction and exclusion.

Bereswill, who identifies as a “travel painter” interested in the essence of place, got the inspiration for “Ivy” while looking at an ivy wall in Mexico City during an artist residency in 2013. “I had this feeling that there could be something amazing behind this wall that I could not access,” he says. Back in his studio, he tried to recreate that feeling of longing for something that can’t be accessed through rhythmical repetitions of shapes and colors.  

That same feeling of “blockage” and “obstruction” is echoed in his series on Bermuda’s rock formations. In this case, the viewer is confronted with the imposing presence of rocks that block out most of the horizon.

Bereswill created each composition in this series in-studio, using color studies, sketches and photos taken at the beach. The end result is a series of paintings that feel both realistic and charged with symbolic meaning. “I took what historically has served as a window into deeper space—the horizon—and tried to flip it over,” he explains. “In this case the viewer can delve into deeper space by confronting this imposing surface right at front.” 

This concept is taken a step further in Hamill's VR work. Armed with a VR headset, viewers are asked to take a step towards one of her larger oil works. This first motion activates a visualization of the painting that starts to virtually deconstruct all around the viewer as soon as it’s touched. Overlapping brush strokes are dismantled into free-floating blobs of colors that surround the viewer in all directions. By playing with each “blob” viewers can make them bounce up or down, left or right, evoking a sense of free movement that comes with being in water. “I had a feeling that two-dimensional paintings were getting just a fraction of a much larger movement I wanted to express,” Hamill explained. “VR, like sculpture, allows you to go deeper.”

Now the their baby is born, the two artists expect further changes in their work. Bereswill plans to turn his “Ivy” series into stained glass installations. While Hamill is curious to see if motherhood will bring a softer tone to her work. “I feel that having a baby made me more confident and more efficient,” she says. “But I wonder if being with this soft gentle creature will also make it more soft.”

Written by Vittoria Traverso