In both exhibitions, the watercolors function as a sort of primer, providing a window into Phillips' thinking process with inked words, most of them quotations from Brady. The watercolors also act as a bridge between the two shows, linking them stylistically and conceptually. They are done in a loose way that is better suited to the direct medium painted small on paper than it is to the layered medium painted larger on canvas or linen.
And that constitutes my main objection to this painter overall. While many of the watercolors feel cartoonish in their essence, it is difficult to take work seriously that depicts its main subject (Brady) as a silly-looking figure not much more expressive than a doll. It's also annoying (for me, anyway) when the comic-strip convention of rendering hands and feet with four digits rather than five is applied to museum-bound art in the form of otherwise well crafted and ambitious paintings. When Phillips trivializes the subject in this way, I am left with more perplexity.
NOTE: The Opalka Gallery exhibition is officially open through July 30, but has been extended a week through Aug. 6. The Albany Institute exhibition runs through Oct. 3. For hours and contact information, check the web sites (linked above).
Image credits for paintings by John Ransom Phillips, from top down: Fallen at Shiloh 2007 Oil on Linen Promised Gift to Yale University Art Museum; Scattered Parts at Murfreesboro 2007 Oil on Linen Collection of Artist; Birds Eye View of Lost and Fallen: Chancellorsville 2007 Oil on Linen Private Collection; Death and Forgotten Selves at Second Manassas 2007 Oil on Linen Collection of the Artist; To be Photographed by Me Made You Unique 2005 Watercolor; Shooting 2007 three panels of oil on canvas