The classical house is a Platonic symbol, an Idea, so it evolves into a home/home-leaving argument. The house-form discovers within itself intensely non-ideal and distinctly syrupy emotions. The visual whole of the house-archetype, just a box and triangle, is dismembered into atomized fragments – dots, plaids, stripes. Those fragments are recombined into a larger structure (that is, saved from being truly fragmentary) by the persistent grid. The grid itself may be painted on canvas, or it may be given real stature, that of steel plates on a wall.
-Kay Larson, 1998
Kay Larson’s essay on Bartlett’s House Series of 1997-98 opens with the uncanny assessment of the artist’s mindful inventorying, long her mental exercise upon embarking on a new body of work. Larson’s poignant phrase that Bartlett’s mind finds its gravity of happiness, in that endless philosophical loop, echoes the primacy of the house motif as the artist’s alter ego. The rudimentary icon—the triangle atop a square belies its rich significance and history for Bartlett—it is an essential key in her landmark Rhapsody but had earlier appeared, briefly but suggestively amidst the system plate paintings of the early 70s.
It becomes both a leitmotif and metaphor for the Addresses (1976-78) whose painting titles are in themselves an inventory of family addresses and studios/lofts of fellow artists and downtown denizens—a directory of sorts of the early 70s art scene. Perhaps most eloquently expressed in the twin central plates in that series’ 131 Greene St/Patmos. In her landscape paintings that followed a decade later, installations of both paintings and freestanding, built structures, the house is physically now present—no longer the shadowy presence of her film noir series, At Sands Point.
In the 90s, Bartlett returned to the steel plate format, the painting support of her own design, in exuberant, lush paintings with the house icon, dotted, dashed, pixilated and supersized. Her aughts’ paintings in their most ambitious reach—monumental Amagansett landscapes are perhaps most personally significant in the double beach cottage — a self-referential nod to her black and white photos accompanying her novel, History of the Universe and a lifelong thread to a childhood spent in the SoCal surf — that gravitational pull indeed.