Sachi Yanari-Rizzo, Curator of Prints & Drawings
The FWMoA’s etching and aquatint Clouds Obscuring San Diego (1987) is characteristic of Yvonne Jacquette’s panoramic and oblique view of cities and countryside observed from airplanes or the upper floors of skyscrapers. She passed away at age 88 on April 23, 2023.
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1934, Jacquette grew up in Stamford, Connecticut where she took private art lessons with a neighborhood art teacher and academic painter, Robert Roché. (She is also a Scholastic alum, receiving an Award in 1948!) In 1952 she began studying at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) but left three years later to finish her education in New York City’s museums and galleries, beginning her career as an artist.
Jacquette and her New York friends Rackstraw Downes, Jane Freilicher, Alex Katz, and Sylvia Plimack Mangold were realists at a time when minimalism and conceptualism dominated the art scene. Unlike the photorealists, painterly handwork appealed to her. In Jacquette’s search for a semi-abstract representational style, she found inspiration in the disparate works of Joan Mitchell, Piet Mondrian, Claude Monet, Charles Sheeler, and filmmaker/photographer Rudy Burckhardt, whom she married in 1964.
Early on, Jacquette’s work showed a fondness for cropping and unusual vantage points, the absence of humans, and maintaining a balance between abstraction and figuration. As a new mother she found her compositions at home, including household objects at odd angles. When she moved to sketching on the streets with a mobile studio she explained, “I used a shopping cart as an easel, because the drug characters were so heavy on 14th Street where we lived at the time. I had to be ready to roll away. I would run around the block and come back when they were gone.”i
The year 1969 was a turning point in her struggle to approach representation. She described, “I decided that I had to find a way that was different from all of them. And it turned up by going in the airplane. It happened by accident, of course. I didn’t ever plan it. I was going to visit my parents who had just moved to California, and I was in a plane with watercolors, and I started to see that the clouds were amazing when you’re right in them.”ii
Jacquette’s first major painting using an aerial view is Passagassawaukeeag I (1975) located in Belfast, Maine, where she regularly summered with her family. She exhibited this new body of work from an aerial perspective at the Brooke Alexander Gallery in New York one year later.
This preoccupation with drawing on jet airplanes transformed from just busy work in flight to becoming the focus of travel. Jacquette intentionally planned overnight trips to other cities with return flights at the same time so that both legs of the trip shared similar lighting. She chartered private airplanes to fly over rural areas, allowing her time to make pastel sketches and photographs that she would blend with her imagination and memories for her paintings back in the studio.
In retrospect, it reminded her of childhood experiences. She recalled: “We lived on a very high hill, in the middle of hill so there was a lot of views looking down and our house was very narrow and high, so I recall this feeling these spatial levels. I could look up sometime, I could look down other times and I kept being aware of having these, kind of, oblique points of view as a lot of fun before I ever started drawing it.iii
In 1978, through serendipity, Jacquette began painting evening scenes, or nocturnes, during visits with her hospitalized friend and poet, Edwin Denby. Due to his concerns that their visits were interfering with her work, she complied by sketching views out his New York University Hospital window. Jacquette exhibited her evening paintings in 1979.
Jacquette’s works are reminiscent of 19th century Japanese woodblock prints, like the FWMoA’s Tango Province: Ama no hashidate by Utagawa Hiroshige. The view from a bird’s eye perspective tends to abstract the subject into flat colors and planes. The artist held a fascination with Asian art, traveled to Japan with her family in 1982, and was the subject of a solo exhibition in Tokyo in 1985.
Clouds Obscuring San Diego was based on a pastel drawing that Jacquette made during a flight to visit her mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The hazy nighttime view scattered with city lights is interrupted by clouds. Signs and lights dissolve into a pattern of glowing dots and defining contours blur, evoking a feeling of ambiguity and loneliness, and becoming a metaphor for her mother’s fluctuating moments of clarity and forgetfulness.
Jacquette created over fifty lithographs, intaglios, and woodcuts beginning in 1973. In fact, her first solo exhibition at Brooke Alexander Gallery featured her lithographs of Twenty-second Street. Clouds Obscuring San Diego was made at the San Francisco printmaking workshop Crown Point Press. It required nine plates using 16 inks to attain the subtle atmospheric quality and luminous color of evening.
Jacquette taught intermittently at Moore College of Art, Parsons School of Design, University of Pennsylvania, and Vermont Studio Center. In her youth she stated that she wanted to be a “portraitist of American cities.”iv Jacquette created works in Chicago, Minneapolis, New Orleans, San Francisco, Tokyo, and New York City, which was her home for almost 60 years. Her works are found at the Hirshhorn Museum of Sculpture Garden, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Whitney Museum of American Art.
i John Yau, “Yvonne Jacquette with John Yau,” The Brooklyn Rail, February 2008, https://brooklynrail.org/2008/02/art/yvonne-jacquette-with-john-yau.
ii John Yau, “Yvonne Jacquette with John Yau,” The Brooklyn Rail, February 2008, https://brooklynrail.org/2008/02/art/yvonne-jacquette-with-john-yau.
iii Barbara Shikler, “Oral History Interview with Yvonne Jacquette, 1989 June 6-Dec. 13,” Archives of American Art, 03:22 to 03:51, https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-yvonne-jacquette-12147.
iv Hilarie Faberman, Aerial Muse: The Art of Yvonne Jacquette (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 2002), 66.