The gallery is pleased to present Will Barnet Love Letters, an exhibition of paintings and drawings from 1955 to 1990 focused on the artist’s wife Elena as subject and muse. The show includes seven major paintings dating from 1955 to 2005 and related works on paper. It is accompanied by an illustrated on-line catalogue with introduction by Chris Crosman and text by John Yau.
When Will Barnet (American, 1911 – 2012) met Elena Ciurlys in 1953 it changed his life and his art. Already a well-established presence in the New York art world, Barnet’s fascination with theory, abstraction and the modernist avant-garde suddenly receded in favor of a renewed interest in figuration. Through drawings and painting of his new subject and love, Barnet developed his iconic style of defining the figure through semi-abstract simplified flat, hard-edged forms and minimal naturalistic detail – beautifully balanced and classically structured. This show, gathered from the family’s private collection, features a little remarked upon or noticed aspect of Barnet’s work: its fundamental attention to the importance of human and, especially his most intimate personal relationships. As a body of work, this exhibition celebrates that long, enduring embrace, one captured in the classic beauty, stillness and grace of Elena’s constant presence, of those numinous relationships where line and form reify lives closely lived with tender regard.
Writing on Barnet’s work, the noted critic and poet John Yau says: “Barnet’s synthesis of humanist warmth and precise form attains its clearest expression in the figural paintings he did from the mid-1960s until just before the end of his life, when he returned to abstraction.” Yau continues: “It is not an exaggeration to state that Barnet’s paintings of his second wife, Elena – Double Portrait of Elena (1980s), Elena (1981), and Now and Then (1989) – constitute one of the high points of American art in the 1980s, a decade when slathering paint and showmanship had become the rage. Barnet’s portraits instead embody a quiet rebuke to excess and hyperbole.”