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Will Barnet: My Father's House

October 1 - November 23, 2004


(above: Will Barnet, Mother, c. 1930, pen & ink, ink wash, gouache on paper, 11 7/8 x 8 7/8 inches. Courtesy Alexandre Gallery, New York.)


Montserrat College of Art has announced that Will Barnet, the 93 year-old artist whose paintings and prints have for decades defined him as a major American artist, will have a major exhibition of work -- much of it never shown before -- at the art college in his hometown of Beverly, MA. The exhibition, Will Barnet: My Father's House, curated by Montserrat Gallery Director Katherine French and featuring paintings, drawings and prints dating from 1937 through 1992, will be on view in the Montserrat College of Art Gallery, 23 Essex Street, Beverly, MA from October 1 through November 23, 2004. (right: Will Barnet, The Mantle, 1992, oil on canvas, 40 x 42 3/4 inches. Courtesy Alexandre Gallery, New York.)

Although born and raised in Beverly, Barnet moved to New York City and began a very successful career there in 1931. While most of his work was done in New York, the Montserrat exhibition showcases work that depicts members of Barnet's family and the Beverly home he helped his father build. John Updike, the novelist and essayist who has lived on the North Shore since the late 1950s, is author of the catalog's foreword and writes: "This is the spacious house that the boy had had a hand in building. Here, in the basement, at the age of twelve, he had set up his first studio, and here he had observed the activity of five other human beings and a pet parrot. Here he had often returned, as a relief and refreshment amid the distractions of a metropolitan career. Now time has nearly emptied it, reducing its reality to the spareness of his own art."

The exhibition focuses on a series of paintings completed after the deaths of his sisters in the early 1990s, in which Barnet explores his feelings of profound loss. The works capture the interior emotions of his family's existence, his relationship to them, as well as the atmosphere of the house, rooms, and abstract sense of light. The accompanying drawings range in date from the early 1930s to the 1990s and many serve as studies for later paintings. All prints in the exhibit are from 1937 and depict Barnet's father resting after a hard day's work. (right: Will Barnet, My Father's House, 1992, oil on canvas, 37 1/2 x 40 inches. Courtesy Alexandre Gallery, New York.)

Upon arriving in New York as a young man, Barnet drew from models he found on the street, conscious of Damier and his own socially aware contemporaries. He studied with Stuart Davis at the Art Students League, before beginning his career as a teacher there. Although he became more and more intrigued by symbolic abstraction, he found ways to incorporate this new interest with his long-time fascination in Native American art which had begun in his youth within the walls of the Essex Institute (now part of the Peabody Essex Museum) in Salem. With a group of other like-minded artists, he formed a group called the Indian Space Artists, who sought to go beyond Cubism in order to create a particularly American art form based upon the integration of negative and positive space.

In the painting titled My Father's House, Barnet creates a monument in which the spectral figure of his sister Eva stands behind a screened door, terrified to step out onto the porch. Above her, windows glow with visions of a family who have returned to spend time together. "Memory plays an important part in the idea of immortality," Barnet remarked when considering this work. "In the end, all we have left is memory."

The exhibit is the result of a two-year collaboration between the artist and Katherine French, who worked directly with Barnet, conducting interviews and curating the exhibit with work from his own collection. Although much of it had been stored away and had not been seen by the artist or his wife, Elena, since the 1940s and 1950s, the paintings have been exhibited once, during a very brief show in New York. This is the first time this work appears together.

Barnet's professional career has spanned nearly eight decades, from his early work in the Graphic Arts Division of FDR's Works Progress Administration to recent retrospective exhibitions. His work appears in more than 200 museum collections, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Metropolitan, MOMA, the Whitney, and the Guggenheim Museums in New York; the National Gallery, the Corcoran Gallery and the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, the Art Institute of Chicago; the Vatican Museum in Rome; and the British Museum in London. Barnet has also had a distinguished career as a teacher, having taught at the Art Students League in New York City, Cooper Union, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Yale University. He is a member of the National Academy of Design and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts In London.

While exhibiting extensively in New York and in Europe, Barnet has not exhibited work on the North Shore since a retrospective exhibition at the Essex Institute in 1980. Regionally, he has exhibited in Maine and throughout New England, most notably with an exhibition of work at the Currier Gallery in Manchester, NH in 1984. .A comprehensive exhibition of his paintings, drawings and prints, curated by Gail Stavitsky appeared at the Montclair Museum of Art, Montclair, NJ in 2000 before traveling to numerous other venues, including the Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME.

An opening reception for Will Barnet: My Father's House will be Thursday, September 30 from 5 - 7 p.m. An Artist Reception and Catalog Signing with Will Barnet is planned for Saturday, October 23, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. in the Gallery. Both events are free and open to the public. (right: Will Barnet, The Kitchen, 1992, oil on canvas, 31 1/4 x 44 1/2 inches. Courtesy Alexandre Gallery, New York.)

A 27-page color catalog for the exhibition is available for purchase from the Montserrat Gallery Office.


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