“The Colors of My Life: Paintings in the Washington Color School Tradition,” a comprehensive retrospective exhibition featuring works from the atelier of former MWFA artist Howard Barnes (1943-2020) is on view through October 28 at Miller White Fine Arts, 708 Route 134, South Dennis, Massachusetts.
“Charles Beaudelaire once said, “Colourists are epic poets.” The elegance, warmth and introspection of Barnes’ artworks indeed underscore the truth of this statement. The Washington Color School, an art movement that emerged in Washington, D.C., and flourished in the 1960s, promoted a form of abstract art that developed from the Color Field movement of the 1950s, itself a response to the abstract expressionism of the New York School.
“Styles of many of the prominent colorists in that movement, such as Ken Noland, Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler, are clearly referenced in Barnes’ earlier works. However, as a member of the second tier of the WCS, Barnes’ aesthetic contribution adds significant depth and dimension to many of the Colorists’ novel concerns, particularly that of representing nature through fields of color. Original WCS member Paul Reed, with whom Barnes personally studied, was the only one of his colleagues who, throughout his own career, maintained a reliance on nature to inform his work. Reed’s influence on Barnes’ work, both technically and philosophically, is hugely evident, however, Barnes has gone on to break ground with equal innovation and virtuosity.
“By the 1980s, Barnes’ many influences over decades of study and practice began to merge at the easel, with full mastery of the various approaches and himself ready to go beyond. Gentle mauves, blues and greens soon gave way to a burgeoning affinity for colors of greater intensity and contrast that would continue to grow throughout the remainder of his career. Many works, beginning with an expressive field of splatters, where then layered over with hard-line bands of color, either brushed or rolled on, producing juxtaposing opaque and transparent forms that visually invite freeform meandering while occupying a commanding composition stance. Further, Barnes’ fields now took on increased vigor through the painting process of scumbling, a technique he used to push a complement of colors into a field to raise the action of the surface.
“With an overarching concern for the life cycles of the natural world, Barnes was, by this time, approaching his prime. His impeccable composition and technique meticulously document the vitality of these portraits in ways that defy typical convention. For him, small things matter, and he assures us of this fact by virtue of the interconnectedness of otherwise divergent figures and forms.
“Barnes’ scapes get your attention because they are consistent with our emotional and intuitive associations with nature. Nature is big, bigger than can be contained by human intervention and will fight for balance, with all necessary means at its disposal. Witness the ferocity of a prairie fire or the brutal force of a tsunami. In that Barnes provides color for nature’s portrait, the result is a higher, nobler sentience regarding her unrelenting influence on our lives.
“Gently but firmly, Barnes demands that our view of nature be altered. His use of color alludes to the way a camera’s shutter blinks through successively finer lens, orbiting, sharpening and adding critical depth to the piece. There is tension and complexity, given the appearance of rapid movement within fields bordering areas of calm and quiet. Our contemplation and enjoyment of these mesmerizing works will send us forth confident of nature’s inherent harmony, in all its vastness and native peculiarity.
“Barnes received his undergraduate training at Washburn University School of Fine Art in Topeka, Kansas, followed by extensive training at Heidelberg University School of Design in Germany. Following service in the United States Armed Forces, he worked professionally as a medical illustrator and commercial art director, while pursuing his career-defining studies with Paul Reed.”
(Miller White Fine Arts, 708 Route 134 (rear garden entrance), South Dennis, Massachusetts, is open by appointment or happenstance. To schedule a visit to the gallery, call (508) 360-4302 or email Susan Danton at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can view “The Colors of My Life: The Paintings of Howard Barnes (1943-2020)” at https://www.artsy.net/viewing-room/miller-white-fine-arts-the-colors-of-my-life-the-paintings-of-howard-barnes-1943-2020.)