Rebecca Westcott, an appreciation

westcottherselfWe’re sorry to report the death of artist Rebecca Westcott, age 28. (shown right at Spector Gallery in front of a painting by Oliver Vernon, summer, 2004.) We admired her portraits of her peers and friends for their forthright gazes and for their honesty. At a time when the art world is enchanted with surface beauty she gave you soul. Three of our appreciations of her work are at the end of this post. What follows are an obituary that ran in today’s Daily News and a notice on the memorial service and other information on the Spector Gallery website. [ed. note: we have supplied images for this post that didn’t appear with the original stories.]


Rebecca Westcott, 28, rising artist

By Yvonne Latty, Philadelphia Daily News, October 15, 2004

MOST PEOPLE who knew Rebecca “Becky” Westcott thought she was an angel.

Sweet and big-hearted, Westcott was a local artist on the rise. She recently won the prestigious Pew Fellowship in the Arts, a $50,000 prize to develop her craft.

She was happily married to her soul mate and fellow artist, Jim Houser. They shared a bright rowhouse in Queen Village with their two big, rambunctious dogs, Ella and Stugley.

“If you saw her work, it told you a lot about her, and what it told you was that she loved her friends, cooking, plants and her surroundings,” said Shelley Spector, a close friend and the owner of Spector, a gallery in Philadelphia that represented Westcott.


“She painted all about her surroundings. She painted an atmosphere that was homey, warm and showed her sincere love of her life. That was what was inside of her.”

The recent opening of her solo show at Spector was packed with patrons and admirers of her paintings. The show was just another step for this local art star. She was booked for shows around the country for the next year. (shown is “Royal” from her solo show in September)

On Tuesday night, after visiting family in Nantucket, Mass., Westcott was driving back to Philadelphia on Interstate-95 when she got a flat tire in Hartford, Conn. Westcott pulled far over to a grassy area to change it. As she was working on the tire, a car swerved off the road and struck her. She died instantly.

No charges have been filed yet against the driver, who has a history of reckless driving and a DWI, police said.

Westcott was 28. She was born in Vermont and moved to Philadelphia about seven years ago.


“Becky was the type of person you felt lucky to have in your life,” Spector said. “She always had the ability to be positive and find the sweetness in things. Just being around her was a reminder of what are the really important things in life.”

Westcott received her bachelor’s degree from the Rhode Island School of Design. She also attended the Pont-Aven School of Art, in France.

Westcott had solo exhibitions of her work at Space 1026 and 1 Pixel Gallery, in Philadelphia. Her work has been included in group exhibitions at New Image Art, in Los Angeles, 111 minna, in San Francisco, White Columns and Diesel Gallery, in New York, Virginia Beach Contemporary Art Center, the Institute of Contemporary Art, and Vox Populi, among others. (image is installation shot from New Image Art)

Westcott’s parents lived in Nantucket and she was always going back and forth. She worked occasionally on the island doing floral design and she loved to spend time with her mother, Nadine Bernard Westcott, children’s book author and illustrator. They were planning to go to Paris together next week.

Westcott married Jim Houser two years ago. Her father, Bill, and mother gave her away as Jim and their dogs waited at the altar in a field near her parent’s home.

The couple met more than eight years ago when Westcott was in college. Houser was instantly smitten by Westcott and they had been together ever since.

“She pushed Jim and made him the driven person he is today,” said Ben Woodward, an artist and a close friend, who introduced the couple. “She encouraged him, challenged him and held him to his word. She was a very powerful woman. They completed each other.”

The couple weaved a successful career together. They often showed their work in galleries together and worked out of studios in their home.

Melissa Franklin, the director of the Pew, said Westcott was one of the youngest artists they had ever funded.


“I was captivated by her work,” she said.

“I really responded to it, then meeting her, she was an incredibly warm person. There was so much talent there, to have that snuffed out, it’s an incredible loss for the art community.” (detail from portrait of local artist Andrew Jeffrey Wright)

In addition to her husband and parents, she is survived by a sister, Wendy.

Services: A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Oct. 23 at Space 1026, Arch Streeet near 10th. Burial is private.

Shelley Spector who just showed Westcott’s work last month at SPECTOR Gallery posted this on the gallery website.

I’m so sorry to say that Rebecca Westcott, a beloved local artist and friend, died suddenly on October 12th. Becky, who was returning from a visit to see her family in Nantucket, was struck down by a car while she was changing a flat tire.This is a huge loss to not only her friends

and family, but the art community who loved and admired her. There will be a gathering at SPACE 1026 October 23rd beginning at 4PM. It is open to the public. If you have any of Becky’s work please bring it to this memorial which will also be a one night show of her work. If you

want to send anything to her husband Jim Houser and their family please send it here c/o SPECTOR and I will make sure that they get it. Thank you.

Here are some excerpts on Westcott’s work from past arblog posts and from Philadelphia Weekly reviews.

Saving Face

by Roberta Fallon, Philadelphia Weekly, January 17, 2001

If van Gogh is the father of modern portrait painting and Alice Neel is the mother, then call Rebecca Westcott–whose portrait show, “Ladies Room,” is at–a loving daughter.

For Westcott’s portraits of her friends owe something to van Gogh’s fierce tenderness (seen in this season’s blockbuster exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art). And they owe even more to works made by Neel, the New York portrait painter who pioneered a kind of stylized, off-balance portraiture that’s unsparing in its approach. Westcott shares Neel’s unblinking focus and a tense moodiness invoked by the tight, sometimes twisted body language of the sitters.


Westcott, a 1998 Rhode Island School of Design graduate and member of the Space 1026 collective, is a dedicated portrait painter. “I have no interest in doing anything but real portraits,” she says. She paints her friends and an occasional commission. A year ago, for example, Rebecca and Gil Kerlin of Gallery Joe commissioned a portrait.

Lately, she’s pared down her compositions to just the figure and some rune-like word fragments on an unprimed linen support, leaving out background details like furniture, walls and windows. This spareness isolates the figure like a painted orphan in a sea of oatmeal-colored cloth. While enhancing the raw quality of the work, it fosters a reading of these young women as unfinished. (image is “Chi and Atari”)

The runish word fragments are a counterbalance to the weighty figures. They lock the work into our info-overloaded age, where words come at us day and night, fragmented or whole, piling up like so much junk.

Westcott works from photographs. She takes many shots of her subjects and comes up with an amalgamated pose that feels right for each person. Then she paints quickly, applying a red underpainting right on the linen with no preliminary drawings.

“They’re really fast,” she says of her paintings, explaining that, with the exception of Ingrid, all the work in the show was made since late October. “The faster I do them, the better they come out.”

A good portrait may describe a person, but because it also comes out of a particular place and a time, it’s full of other kinds of information. And because it offers a kind of meta-human encounter, an Alice’s-looking-glass reflection, it is universally engaging as an immersion in the other.

So without reading too deeply, Westcott’s “Ladies” captures a group of young women at the beginning of their adult lives. There’s an urgency here, and a youthful holding on for dear life. These heroines look you in the eye while they clutch the edge of their chairs or stand with their arms tightly folded.

Chi is a fashion designer and best bud of the artist. Alley is a friend of a friend just getting over a bad bout of Lyme disease. Piper is jobless and just graduated from college. She positively squirms in her chair. And Ingrid is a budding art consultant who grips her chair with both hands.


Untitled, a young woman in a high-necked blue jacket with her shoulders back and hands out of sight, is a sweet work based on a snapshot Westcott took of a passing stranger, someone she felt a connection with but did not know. It’s perhaps the calmest work in the series, capturing a childlike vulnerability and unselfconsciousness missing from some of the other paintings. Untitled will be included in this spring’s New American Painters, a juried national art magazine. (image is “Kathryn”)

The paintings are a hot lot due to a combination of edgy pose, vigorous brushwork and the use of red in the underpainting and finishing touches. “I don’t like to pretty things up,” says Westcott, who confides with a laugh that her models look better in person.

Westcott says she wants to continue her portraits of young women. Every age needs a portrait painter. And it looks like Westcott has the energy, talent and insights for the job.

“Ladies Room: Portraits by Rebecca Westcott” Gallery, Philadelphia

from Picture This: Local galleries and museums present challenging exhibits this fall.

by Roberta Fallon, Philadelphia Weekly, September 15, 2004

Newly minted Pew fellow Rebecca Westcott’s portraits of her friends at Spector Gallery are stylish but rooted in a real world completely unlike Bartlett’s. The twentysomething Westcott is attuned to the body language and personalities of her sitters. And in her first solo show with Spector, she captures people as individuals who are less symbols than representatives of themselves–a generation on the verge of adulthood.


Westcott’s painting style is reminiscent of the late Alice Neel’s. Like Neel, the artist doesn’t feel the need to fill in the painting’s background–she lets her subjects sit on minimally depicted chairs in front of a white void. And Westcott isn’t afraid to paint her crew warts (prominent teeth, red knuckles, stringy hair or awkwardness) and all.

What’s at stake is documentation, not prettiness, although Westcott’s paintings truly have style. Neel collected souls in her edgy portraits, and I believe Westcott is doing the same. (image is installation shot from New Image Art)

“Homemade: Paintings by Rebecca Westcott”

Through Oct. 2. Spector Gallery, 510 Bainbridge St. 215.238.0840.

from Earnest youth and comic book crewel at Spector

By Libby Rosof, artblog, September 19, 2004

If you’re not familiar with the portraits of Rebecca Westcott, you can see them this month at Spector Gallery.

Westcott’s portraits of young adults–her crowd–against fairly blank backgrounds capture their earnestness, their tentativeness, and their everyday clothes. Unlike Elizabeth Peyton, who’s working the same age group and paints only the cool, flattened stares of languid youth posing for Ralph Lauren, Westcott gets personal.


I also like the contrast between traditional portraiture–of people who can pay for their likenesses–and these pictures of the young, not-yet-successful who are still a little unformed (like the backgrounds) and finding their way in the world. Most portraits of young people come out of art school, practice ventures for the artist-in-training. But these are accomplished paintings with a point of view. (image is from postcard for September show)

“Homemade: Paintings by Rebecca Westcott”

Spector Gallery, Philadelphia