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Review: Robert Barnes/Corbett vs. Dempsey

Drawings, Painting, Ukrainian Village/East Village Add comments

"Land of Cockaigne," 2010, oil on canvas


Robert Barnes played chess with Duchamp, worked with Matta and has a pancake recipe from Max Ernst. With these anecdotes Barnes fed my sense of wonder while I was a student of his, in 1973-74, at Indiana University, Bloomington. A generous and excellent teacher, his painting-class conversations were like his paintings, brimming with allusions, ideas and references all in constant movement. Drama and myth, or more specifically the interpenetration of drama and myth with everyday life, supply the content for a current exhibition titled “Paradise,” with five large works (approximately sixty-inches square) and several smaller paintings.

Abundance is a fitting subject for Barnes, who responds to an era characterized by an increasingly dystopian vision of scarcity, by depicting several versions of paradise. In “Land of Cockaigne,” where an everlasting banquet pours toward the viewer, a man with a collar and crown of leaves and fruit munches on a chicken leg while a pig wanders through another corner of the canvas. “Mag Mell,” “Eden,” “Avelon” and “Opium” make up the set; each one crowded with its own storied plentitude of incidents, settings, nourishment and objects.

The smaller pieces, depicting rich and complicated earthly scenes are equally compelling. Hermetic and paradoxically quotidian, pockets of Renaissance space are momentarily visible; time warps and bends; figures group and regroup; water, fire and air mingle in a painted analogy to James Joyce’s (a hero of Barnes’) stream-of-consciousness style. Islands of color and gesture, which may or may not describe objects or spaces, impossibly saturated reds, yellows and sherbet colors rise out of and ride on layers of deeper dark colors. Sometimes these hues are motivated by a light source, at other times they seem to function as a pretext to startle and seduce the viewer with color. (Janina Ciezadlo)

Through June 19 at Corbett vs. Dempsey, 1120 North Ashland

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