Colossal Fruit and Vegetable Show

Recently, a video was posted on YouTube of Bill Barrell’s Colossal Fruit and Vegetable Show at the Essex Street Market in New York City back in 1969.  He was asked to talk a little about that show and how it came about.  This is what he had to say.

Colossal Fruit and Vegetable Show shopping bag
One of the actual shopping bags from Bill Barrell's 1969 Colossal Fruit and Vegetable Show at the Essex Street Market in New York City

– It was back in 1965 when I had moved back to the US from Spain, where my son Joshua was born. I had lived in Spain for close to two years and moving to the Lower East Side of NYC was a cultural shock. In Spain, we had lived in the bucolic countryside in Ibiza. In our first apartment on 11th Street in NYC, we got robbed. So, I looked for a loft and found one on Rivington and Bowery – $100 a month for 2,500 square feet. But then, another came up for $90 a month with the same square footage. It was on Pitt Street, way over by the Williamsburg Bridge between Delancy and Rivington Streets. Ten dollars made a big difference in those days.  I took it. The owner of the building ran a soda making business on the ground floor and you had to step over the drunks to get into the building.

We had lived there for a year or so when I had the idea of opening a gallery. I mentioned it to some friends and they all thought I was crazy. Why would anyone go to the lower east side to see art? I went ahead anyway. I called it the Pitt St Salon, printed my own announcements and did a big mailing. Grace Gluck of the New York Times happened to be doing an article at the time called, “Alternate Spaces”. She called me wanting to know what made me open a gallery way downtown. I told her I had a lot of work I had brought back from Spain but could not find a gallery interested in showing them.  I think her article helped. We opened and to everyone’s surprise, the show drew a huge crowd.

 Hudson Walker, who had bought some of my work in Provincetown came to the show and he bought three pieces. Later, I would take work up to his office on 45th Street. It was always at the end of the workday and he would drag out a bottle of bourbon and place it on the green felt pad that he used to pour diamonds onto. One time, actually the last time I saw him, he told me that I was the best painter since Marsden Hartley.  He was a patron of Hartley’s, who had died a year or so before that and I was please to think I could replace his love for Hartley. Unfortunately, Huddy died the following year. The last time I took work to his office, he said, “I am not fond of any of these”, but quickly said, “you probably need money.” I always needed money. He gave me a check for $400. I still owe him a work.

Bob Wiegand had asked me at the opening how I had attracted such a crowd. I told him I thought downtown was ready for some changes. He loved what I had done and told me he was putting together a show called “10 Downtown”. He and the other nine artists put a lot of effort into it and it was a great success. All of these artists were located south of Houston near Broadway. This area was not known at the time as SoHo. I believe that when people saw what beautiful spaces artists lived in it triggered the move downtown.

So – I would shop at the Essex Street Market. One day, noticing some empty stalls, I thouht what a good idea it would be to rent one and do a show – bring the art right to the people!  The idea sat there germinating. Finally, I thought why not mirror what was already there only on a gigantic scale, fruits and vegetables. So, I made huge tomatoes, bananas, eggplant, potoatoes, etc out of styrofoam. Even the scales and weights were foam. We printed up the announcements on shopping bags. Finally – the opening. It was grand. The little old shopping ladies were taken by surprise.

My younger brother Budge was taking a course on filmmaking at the time. He came and made a project out of it and managed to catch the essence of the whole thing, the curious regulars and my friends who had showed up. It shows Mimi Gross and Red Grooms deciding which bag of carrots to buy. Many of our family showed up. My Mum was caught on film buying an enormous eggplant, my sister Janet showing interest in the big string of garlic that Irene had made. Irene is caught on tape articulating about why we did the show. The moviemaker, Ken Jacobs came. We had shown his work at the Sun Gallery back in 1960. He made 3D slides of it catching some great moments. I have to thank Irene for all of her input and both my brother Budge and Ken Jacobs for documenting it. –

Good Eye for Art and the Scary Painting

It’s sometimes hard to figure with figurative expressionist art. Bill Barrell thought he had created a painting too scary for children, but his daughter and granddaughter must think otherwise.

–  For thirty years, I have watched my daughter Liza grow up. She has given me so much pleasure over the years.

I have watched her go from that little ball of childish energy into a mature woman of thirty with two children of her own. I have often documented her and still do from time to time. I think from her being present in the studio quite a bit and helping me in the kitchen from an early age, she has developed a very good eye for art. Now that she has her own home, she often comes and asks if she can borrow such and such piece of artwork. There is never a no. It give me such pleasure that she enjoys the work so much.

She borrowed this painting and it now hangs at the top of the stairs in her house. At first, I was worried about it as it is a painting of someone looking very alarmed and that Ruby, my three year old granddaughter, would have to pass by it every night on her way to bed. I asked my son-in-law if she was bothered by it, he said no, she likes it. So I asked Ruby what she thought of the painting and she said, “I love it, GrandPa.  I say good night to it when I go to bed.” Go figure. Nothing scary about it at all.

Now Ruby spends some time with me in the studio. We have a large collaborative work going on. It is a never ending piece. I use OOP! paint from the hardware store because it’s water based. OOP! paint are paints that people have mixed and not liked. It’s a dollar a quart so we have fun sloshing it around. She gets up on my steps and I hand her the paint with no directing. She splatters it on in a free manner.

Ruby’s Nana is a nurse and sometimes Ruby likes to play at being a doctor. (So far she has done a quadruple bypass and replaced one kidney on me!) She has said she might like to be a doctor when she grows up. I said to her, “Perhaps, Ruby, you would like to be an artist”.  Ruby answered, “I am an artist.”    –

The Argument – on canvas

This is a short one by Bill Barrell today. He had another blog all prepared and ready to go, but unfortunately we didn’t have the photo of the painting ready yet!  So, Bill was able to gather his thoughts about this oil painting, called “The Argument”, which has been a favorite of many for its color and verve. 

Argument
The Argument

– –  I had an argument once with my wife. I went to the studio and vented my spleen on a canvas. I could argue on a canvas.

Colours are very expressive and in this work, the reds and blues clash, seeming to release the anger I felt.  Meanwhile, the female figure is a calmer yellow. She is doing a Pygmalion and stepping out of the painting. Is she going to calm him or irritate him?  Who is that figure floating on the right? I think he is probably my spiritual referee. Of course, we will never really know as they are frozen in time.

 If we look at DeKoonings’ “Marilyn”, we see that he freezes her in space and time. She appears to be in motion but is going nowhere. This work is a fine example of what expressionist work is all about – catching that moment and freezing it. – –

Self Portrait – Painting the Artist

Today Bill Barrell reflects on the painting of a self portrait, instead of the observations of the world, an observation of the self….

Self Portrait of Bill Barrell
Self Portrait

–  It is always a good idea to have a good look at one’s self once in a while. Rembrandt, Picasso and van Gogh were at it constantly. Why do they do it? Well, because artists are always searching for the truth. I believe that by looking into their own eyes they can tell if they are still on the right track. I think Rembrandt never looked unsure in his self-portraits. Even when he hit hard times, he still looked sure of himself.

Picasso, on the other hand, I don’t know. To me, he always looked a bit surprised that he could still come up with something totally original and yet still catch himself not cheating. I had a friend who at one time owned the painting “Yo Picasso”, Picasso’s portrait of himself when he was about twenty-two, which was done in a realist style.  My friend and his wife had it hanging in their breakfast nook. I visited often and loved to sit across from that piece and just absorb it.  Picasso stood looking out with his coal black eyes as if to say “you ain’t seen nothing yet”.  My friend once showed me where he and his brother had thrown darts at it when they were kids. He told me that they  hadn’t made a habit of the dart game and knew what they had done was wrong, so they had found some shoe polish and filled the holes.  That same painting was later sold for $47.8 million dollars – holes and all.

Van Gogh looks out of his painting with such intensity – as if to say here is my soul, take a good squint at it, I’m laying it all out for you.

It is not easy to look through that mirror and into your soul. In my portrait, I look a little wonky – as if to say I am seeing what I’m seeing and being a little terrified by it. –

Four O’clock in the Morning

Bill Barrell writes of  his painting “Four O’Clock in the Morning” – that time of night when troubles sometimes loom large in the mind.

4:00 in the Morning
Four O'Clock in the Morning

–  This is a painting that depicts the early hours of the morning. It’s that time, usually  about four in the morning, when one is unable to sleep and yet too tired to get up. It’s an awful time that I think is experienced by many people at one time or another. All the boogey men and women come out to play and only the depressing thoughts seem to want to come to the fore.  Things get blown out of proportion like health concerns, mortgage problems, world problems, sleeping concerns – you name it, it will raise its ugly head.

I do not plan these paintings but while in the process of painting – a shape, a form, color or image will sometimes trigger the painting.  Once the process is underway, it will bring to mind deep inner thoughts and fears. Then, images and symbols I have squirreled away in my mind will appear on the canvas.  –

Bad News – Good News

Bill Barrell weighs in today on the news of the last couple of days. Receiving both good and bad news in one day leaves much to reflect on.  Bill finds the common thread between both events in this painting, “The Broken Knee”.

54 inches x 70 inches, 1997, oil on canvas

 

— It is hardly news to anybody at this point, but Haiti has been devastated by an earthquake. Today is certainly a sad day in history.

It is an odd time for me as I heard good and bad news in one day. I had been planning to write about an “up” painting, but it does not seem the appropriate time now. First the terrible news about Haiti and then the good news –  my son JZ Barrell was nominated for Emmy award. So, I have posted a work about my son called “The Broken Knee” which I think relates to both events.

The painting is of my son,  JZ.  A few years back, he had busted his knee while performing at a concert. In the painting, my son is in the hospital after an operation with his leg in traction. He told me that they had given him such heavy doses of drugs that he was hallucinating. I told the doctors to cut back on the drugs because he had told me that he preferred some pain rather than have the hallucinations.  The painting symbolizes the pain my son went through. Yet still –  he came out on top of his profession.

I hope this work can convey some of the pain and suffering going on now in Haiti.  I’m sure with our help, Haiti also can come out on top.  Hopefully, we can all give generously to assist in that effort. I will be donating to the American Red Cross relief fund as soon as I sign off. I hope you will do the same.

Disjointed Feeling

Bill Barrell talks about how a painting can sometimes surprise you in its revelations of feeling and insights. “Coming Apart” is a painting depicting a struggle with just such revelations.

Coming Apart
Coming Apart

 –  Every once in a while, I have this  feeling of being disjointed. I was not feeling particularly disjointed while painting this work, but it was a work that I was struggling with when I began.  Some shape or form appeared in it that reminded me of the feeling of being disjointed.  I have always felt that a painting can lead one into ones own subconsious. It is important to be aware of this. Give it free rein and allow the work to take you there.

Painting is all about capturing and retaining feeling.  The viewer often can relate to works very strongly. As an example, one painting  that I react to is Vincent van Gogh’s, “Irises”. I have grown irises and when they burst forth in the spring in a blaze of periwinkle, I look at them and wish they they could stay in that state. But of course, they don’t. Van Gogh managed to come close to retaining that deep feeling with that painting. He captured the essence of the moment. 

This painting does the same for me. –

Asleep in Matisse’s Studio

On this very cold January day, Bill Barrell reminisces a bit about a memory of a warm and  lovely night on the Mediterraean and how this painting ‘Asleep in Matisse’s Studio” came to be.

– This painting came about after I had taken a trip to Italy to visit friends in a town near Lucca. While on the drive along the Mediterranean coast from Marseilles to Italy, my wife and I happened to stop for the night in the small, charming town of Bordighera.  The hotel was large and very palatial looking and we were given a spacious, palatial looking room with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  A full moon shone that night and the breeze from the sea blew the curtains into the room while the royal palms swayed outside.  I thought about how Matisse had spent his winters in just such a place where he would paint and I felt as if I was in one of those paintings.  It was a great feeling.

This painting, “Asleep in Matisse’s Studio”, captures for me the emotion I had for being in that room that night.  –

Featured Painting: Artist and Model

Bill Barrell has been painting for over 50 years and has a full portfolio of art, numerous awards, shows and reviews under his belt.  At age 77, he wants to share his ideas and his wisdom through a blog on the creation of  art.

The blog will strive to answer questions such as – Where does an idea for a painting come from? Do you sketch your idea out  beforehand?  What kind of prep do you do before you put brush to canvas?  What paints and brushes do use and why? When you have a blank canvas in front of you, where do you begin?  When the painting is complete, how is it stretched?

 Mr. Barrell will also consider less practical subjects like –  how does an artist see life and reality – why is he compelled to paint – what artists does he admire and appreciate?

These questions and many more will be addressed when Barrell begins his blog on “The Painting: from beginning to end.”  Look for it soon.

Meanwhile, feel free to write your comments or email Bill at bill@billbarrell.com.

Hello world!

Well, hello world is right! 

You have arrived at the website of Bill Barrell. Bill is a figurative expressionist painter with many accolades and much respect who has been painting for roughly fifty years.  He has been reviewed by Art in America, The New Criterion and the New York Times, to name a few.  Bill’s work has been appreciated by many, but has not yet been seen in the way it deserves.  We are still in the process of creating this website so all may see his art and discover who he is. 

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