The Desk

Oil on canvas
35 x 24 inches
As published in: Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933-1957
Work on loan: Columbus Museum, Columbus, Georgia

As exhibited in:
Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 19331957, 2015–2017, Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, Massachusetts, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, California, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio

Our Own Work, Our Own Way: Ascendant Women in the Johnson Collection, Columbia Museum of Art, 2023, Columbia, South Carolina

In spite of her conservative art education in Boston, Fannie Hillsmith steadily gravitated towards Cubist and Surrealist-inspired still lifes and interiors. Marked by a fractured picture plane down the central vertical axis, The Desk highlights Hillsmith’s successful adoption of Cubist principles. Here, the artist skillfully reverses positive and negative space to create an optical illusion, a visual perplexity that is further confounded by the oval doorknob in the upper left-hand corner. Where does the door begin and end? And are we presented with an aerial view or a linear perspective? It was precisely this sort of innovation that prompted Josef Albers to invite Hillsmith to teach painting and composition at Black Mountain College’s summer session in 1945.