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Pennsylvania Artists

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20th Century
116 x 92 in. (294.6 x 233.7 cm)

Bo Bartlett, American, b. 1955

Object Type: PAINTINGS
Creation Place: North America
Medium and Support: Oil on canvas
Credit Line: Gift of the Artist
Accession Number: 85-P-307
This painting focuses on the activities of contemporary construction workers, exploring an underground cavity in the earth. As in Jesus at the Festival of Shelters, it depicts an area in Philadelphia around 8th and Vine streets that is under construction. Early in his painting career, Bartlett executed a number of large-scale paintings devoted to the working-class man that stand as an homage to his common, essential, but often overlooked role in society. Here the strength in the composition comes from the forceful triangle formed by the African American workers, rather than from their white supervisor who bends down on the left.

The title reinforces the notion of a monumental and important subject, though one with ambiguous overtones of destruction as well as renewal. One of the earliest sketches for this painting suggests something more somber: the workers are lifting, apparently exhuming, a body from the excavation. The painted and actual blood (accidentally spattered from a cut on the artist’s hand) on the bottom of the supervisor’s pants leaves a provocative and enigmatic symbol. Another small detail is in a lighter vein: the very tip of the supervisor’s pointing finger is reflected in the puddle beside him.

About Triptych:
Three paintings by American artist Bo Bartlett, though created separately, were installed in the lobby of Olney Hall in fall 1989 as a three-part installation: Triptych, and still hang there today.

Born in Columbus, Georgia, Bartlett studied Old Master paintings in Florence, Italy before moving to Philadelphia in 1976. As a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts he received numerous awards and was taught and inspired by Philadelphia artists Sidney Goodman, Arthur DeCosta, and Morris Blackburn. He later apprenticed under the notable realist painter Nelson Shanks, and followed an anatomy class at The Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Bartlett’s work recalls American realist traditions, as defined by artists such as Thomas Eakins and Andrew Wyeth. The familiar subjects of home, family, and friends prevail in his dreamlike, hyper-realist canvases. The commonplace is raised to epic prominence as his monumental paintings subtly blend biblical, political, or social themes and imagery within contemporary settings. The viewer becomes intrigued, almost haunted, by Bartlett’s figures and symbolic situations which suggest tension, vulnerability, and the complexity and mystery of the human soul. The narrative content is often enigmatic, and Bartlett’s works may be interpreted in numerous ways.

Barlett’s work expresses his strong commitment to social justice, community engagement, and the transformative power of art. These paintings are well placed within our University, as an institution of higher education that seeks to impart secular knowledge and social involvement in an atmosphere that celebrates spiritual values.

See also:
Jesus at The Festival of Shelters (Feast of Tabernacles):; and Exodus:
Current Location: Art Museum : Olney Hall, 1st Floor, Lobby


- Triptych, Curated by Caroline Wistar, La Salle University Art Museum, March 20th – May 31st, 1990.

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