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Jennifer Bartlett

Study for Swimmers Atlanta: Seaweed
1979
watercolor, enamel, pen and ink, and pencil
20 x 20 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the General Services Administration, Art-in-Architecture Program

Swimmers Atlanta is a nine-painting mural commissioned for a federal court lobby in Atlanta, Georgia. To prepare for this ambitious commission, Jennifer Bartlett made watercolor studies, such as Seaweed, for each painting. She then transferred these drawings freehand to much larger surfaces to complete the final mural.

Bartlett evokes different phenomena an ocean swimmer might encounter: icebergs, eels, whirlpools, buoys, flares, rocks, boats, bottles, and seaweed. Swimmers and ocean waters are recurring themes for Bartlett, who grew up near the ocean's edge on a peninsula in Long Beach, California. Her symbol of the human presence is a simple, featureless ellipse. Each composition has two parts, often in direct opposition to each other, such as day/night, rain/sun, or choppy/smooth.