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Administrator by Day, Artist by Night

MET’s Jeannie Motherwell exhibits her paintings in a solo show

Click through some of Motherwell's artwork above.

When Jeannie Motherwell leaves her job at Metropolitan College at 5 p.m., her workday is hardly over.

She heads to her Cambridge home — where calendars featuring the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe and John Singer Sargent always hang — eats dinner and unwinds. But by 7 p.m., she is in her private studio for three hours of painting. “I’m very rigid about getting into the studio every night,” says Motherwell, program assistant at MET’s graduate arts administration program. “In order to get a body of work, you need to show up.”

Mothwerwell’s discipline pays off. This month she is showing 18 paintings from the past year in a solo exhibition at the Lyman-Eyer Gallery in Provincetown, Mass. The opening reception was held August 3, and the exhibition will run through August 16.

The works, collectively known as the Patricia Marie series, commemorate a fishing vessel that sank in rough weather on October 24, 1976. At the time, Motherwell was a bohemian twenty-something and a recent graduate of the Art Students League of New York. She had just moved to Provincetown, where she’d spent most of her adolescent summers with her father, Robert Motherwell, and stepmother, Helen Frankenthaler, both influential figures in the 1960s abstract expressionist movement.

Motherwell says that 1976 was significant for another reason. It was the first time she’d spent the winter in Provincetown, and the locals had finally accepted her as more than a tourist. She became friends with the Patricia Marie’s captain and six crewmembers, all of whom died in the accident.

A sense of loss and pain still resonates with Motherwell, but the vibrant colors of the Patricia Marie series are a testament to her optimism. “What was hopeful about it was how the community came together,” she says. The town’s reaction to the tragedy was particularly moving for Motherwell, who’d spent most of her life with her mother in New York City.

In Perfect Storm, one of the artist’s favorite works in the series, large royal blue and black brushstrokes fill the top three-quarters of the canvas, calmly sweeping over a gray sky. Quick, agitated strokes of white, black, and blue lie beneath, creating rough seas that overwhelm the red, uneven rectangle to the right, an image that suggests the soon-to-be-lost vessel. “My intent is never really to portray the incident itself, but rather to emphasize the impact or feeling any particular event evokes,” Motherwell explains. “I like that fine line between the real and the unreal.”

Motherwell, a member of the Cambridge Arts Council Public Commission, has exhibited her work in more than 50 shows since 1974. Despite the long days, she has no plans to give up her hectic schedule. “I consider myself a painter before all else but love the fact that my work within BU somewhat overlaps what I do,” she says. “Our students have a passion for the arts from having experienced it in some tangible way prior to admission, so I feel very connected and committed to the program’s mission.”

Rebecca McNamara can be reached at ramc@bu.edu.