Kirkland Museum: In Thin Air: The art of Phyllis Hutchenson Montrose
1311 Pearl Street. • Denver CO 80203 USA303.832.8576 • kirklandmuseum.orgMuseum HoursTuesday through Sunday11am to 5pmDocent tours offeredCall or visit our website for tour timesPlease note that children under 13 are not permitted in the museumdue to the fragile nature of the collection and the intimate mannerof the displays. Ages 13 to 17 must be accompanied by an adult.Friday, May 3 through Sunday, July 14, 2013Co-curated by Hugh Grant, Founding Director & Curator, andChristopher Herron, Collections Manager & Deputy Curator, withMaya Wright, Exhibition Coordinator & ResearcherDamaged in Transit(as we all have in our journey through life)1981–84, casein tempera with oil glazes on board30 x 24 inches, Collection of Phyllis MontroseThe Visitor1965, oil on canvas, 12 x 10 inchesCollection of Kirkland MuseumPhyllis revealed, “This is my muse looking in on me andbringing me thought bubbles.”on the cover:Phyllis Hutchinson Montrose in the early1950s in a dress she designed and made.Commented Phyllis, “The woman in the background is meas I might have been in the Renaissance, which thereforerepresents the past. The desert in the foreground is thepresent, bleak and uninviting.”the art of
Over dinner when Hugh Grant asked Phyllis Hutchin-son Montrose why she thought there were so manyextraordinary surrealist artists in Colorado, she replied,“Well Hugh! It’s the altitude; the thin air; the lack ofoxygen. We’re all loopy.” So what else could we do buttitle her exhibition, In Thin Air. Phyllis is certainly one ofthe greatest surrealist painters we have had in Coloradoand consequently she has made contributions to Ameri-can art. She is a Colorado native, born in 1928. KirklandMuseum is proud to mount a 54-year retrospective of hercareer, with paintings and prints from 1946 to 2000—with an accompanying catalog reproducing all 42 worksin the exhibition and 15 additional paintings, as well as 22photos of Phyllis.Phyllis began to paint seriously at a time when far moremen did that than women. There were numerous peo-ple who looked amused or sometimes skeptical whenPhyllis would tell them that she was a painter. For exam-ple, Phyllis recalled when art connoisseur Lily Halpernarranged a date for her. The man asked what Phyllis didand she replied she was a painter. He responded, “Ohthat’s a nice hobby but what do you work at?” Phyllisthought to herself, “I was relieved that he didn’t askme to come and give an estimate to paint his house.”Continued Phyllis, “My mother also pointedly said tome that painting was a hobby and not an avocation, butI just needed to paint for myself.” Fortunately, Phyllisreceived encouragement to pursue a career in art fromher teachers Julio de Diego, Vance Kirkland and Angelodi Benedetto. In her eulogy for Angelo in 1992, Phyllisstated: “The first thing Angelo did was to encourage meto paint, and the second was to encourage me to throwoff the limitations of my middle-class values and openthe door to exploration and personal freedom.”Phyllis’s paintings affectus in many ways by explor-ing universal emotionsand experiences, expressedwith unusual and movingimages. Since many of Phyl-lis’s paintings can be seenas surreal, a brief discus-sion about that artisticmovement is appropriate.Surrealism portrays real,actual things and scenes,but then distorts, alters,juxtaposes or eerily trans-forms the images, or putsthings together in unnaturalways so that scenes becomesurreal. Dreams and fan-tasy are combined with theconcrete world in paintingsfor instance, so that realitybecomes sur-reality.Phyllis mastered many different media including water-color, oil, tempera, etchings, woodcuts, lithography anddrawings with ink, graphite and colored pencil. For herhallmark style—taught to her by the important Coloradoartist, Angelo di Benedetto—she would prepare herboards with eight to ten layers of gesso, sanding in be-tween each layer. The initial painting was done in caseintempera, followed by multiple layers of transparent oilpaint glazes, used to create depth and luminosity.Although Phyllis is delightful and entertainingin demeanor, her art works come from a certainamount of psychological pain—which makes hersurrealist paintings that much more poignant andunderstandable. Her mother and father divorced whenshe was 12 years old in 1941. Her mother remarriedwhen Phyllis was 15, then divorced again when she wasabout 18. Her brother, with whom she became closefriends—as well as forming an alliance with him to copewith their domineering mother—died at 35 of melanomacancer. Phyllis has had two divorces. The greatest blowwas when she and her mentor and dear friend of over40 years, artist Angelo di Benedetto, talked of gettingmarried only to have him die shortly afterward of cancer.In 2010, the extraordinary massive mural at the ColoradoJudicial Building at 14th Avenue and Broadway inDenver—one of the most important Colorado public artworks and one on which Phyllis and Angelo collaboratedon for over two years—was destroyed when the buildingwas demolished. Phyllis was able to contend with thesechallenging events by immersing herself in painting.Stated Phyllis: “I would have gone mad without beingable to paint. I have also found great comfort in mybook and music libraries.” Now glaucoma is making itincreasingly difficult for Phyllis to paint.It is with this exhibition that we salute you, Phyllis,for your courage and self reliance to overcome manyobstacles—particularly to persist with painting in theface of your mother’s opposition to it starting in yourearly teenage years—for retaining a sense of humor, foryour dedication to refining your painting techniques,for your talent and wealth of ideas to produce a major,unique body of work, and ultimately for your poignant,meaningful paintings that have enriched us all.A 63 page catalog, published by Kirkland Museum,showing 57 Montrose works, 22 photos of her andwith extensive text is available for this exhibition.