Farewell Gabriel

Bill Barrell usually paints the objects and people in his life. Here he expresses how this painting “Farewell Gabriel” means more than that.

Farewell Gabriel
Farewell Gabriel, 66 in x 70 in, 1987, oil on canvas painting

…. I had a friend who lived in the West Village in New York City.  He was married with a son and had a circle of friends that included everyone from plumbers to philosophers –  gay and straight, young and old, male and female. It was a diverse circle of friends. One day he told me of a friend by the name of Gabriel.

Gabriel was from France. He had told my friend how repressed he had felt in France and that he had recently come to the U.S. and emerged from the closet as a gay man.  He was determined to enjoy the freedom that gays were having in Greenwich Village. My friend encouraged him to enjoy himself.  I met Gabriel a couple of times. He was young, energetic and full of vim and vigor.

Unfortunately, it was the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. It could not have been a worse time. The disease was relatively new and little understood. Gabriel had come out of the closet and stepped into the fire. It struck him within months. There were no medications then and he had little hope of survival. Within six months of meeting my friend, Gabriel was gone. It was tragic that he was gone after such a short and hopefully enjoyable time.

 I don’t often do paintings of events, but this event struck me as so tragic that I felt I should record it. I like to think that it memoralizes not only Gabriel, but the people who have passed away from AIDS and those that cope with it now.

My Paint Table

Bill Barrell’s studio is always full of pleasant surprises…… 

The Paint Table
Paint Table, oil on canvas, 32 x 26, 2009

  … My paint table is always a mess – but only to other people. I can turn to my table and find exactly what I need. Once in awhile, I straighten it out but it doesn’t stay straightened out for long. It is usually jumbled up within days.

When my daughter Liza was young, I had to run her to school and pick her up in the afternoon. I would be working away and deeply involved in a painting when I would look up at the clock and realize that I had to dash into town and pick her up. This meant leaving everything in one wet pile. Oh, I’d think, that’s ok. I will clean it up when I get home.  But instead, I would cook dinner or go to an opening and then the next day I would realize that I had a doctor appointment in New York and that would eat up most of the day. Before I knew it those pots and brushes had stood unattended for three days! Stiff brushes GRRRRR!!!!

It happened so often that I started buying cheap Chinese bristle brushes just so I could chuck them if they got stiff.

Well….  now I have to post this blog and prepare dinner. Right after I take care of seeing a potential new tenant, attend a garden cookout  and go for a bus ride that I promised to take with my granddaughter.  I guess I will pop down to the studio and clean those brushes. Tomorrow.

Descent From the Cross

 Bill Barrell contemplates religion and the influence it has on life – and his paintings.

Descent from the Cross, oil on canvas, 70" x 46", 1975

–  My mother and father came from different religions.

 Mother belonged to Church of England, Father was a Catholic. His was a very strict catholic upbringing. He was an altar boy, went to daily masses and attended a private catholic school.  I believe the catholic religion did irreparable damage to him because he went through life feeling guilty, especially when he later deserted the church. My mother attended her church once in a while on Sundays, but was not an avid follower. When they married they agreed that the boys would be Catholic and the girls Church of England. They ended up with three boys and two girls, none of whom ever became overly religious.

I recall going to Sunday school when I was six years old. I remember some of the parables such as, “The Good Samaritan” and things like “Do unto others as you would have them done unto you”. These few things stuck, but it is all I remember. I am a non-believer today but I do believe in being good to my fellow human. I have known people to invoke god such as, it’s in god’s hands, or it is god’s will, or in god we trust which I find aggravating that the problem is pushed onto some entity that does not exist instead of dealing with the problem themselves.

 At the same time, I believe strongly that people have the right to believe in whatever or whoever they wish.

From time to time while painting, I have taken themes from religous situations such as I have from other subjects like war and inhumane behavior (which I don’t believe in either).  The crucifixion of Christ set the stage for a division of believers and hence some bad feelings that we still feel the effects of to this day. I feel that religions are responsible for most of the turmoil on this planet and that we would be better off without any of them. I know this is wishful thinking because people will always create something to hang on to.

There was a lot of pain for many people when he was taken down from the cross. People wept. But as in the French Revolution, there were far too many that enjoyed crucifixions no matter who they were crucifying. In this painting, I wanted to show the anguish and sorrow of those who loved him and the peace on his face that seems to have gone from great suffering to oblivion, to be no more.