Ah Summer!

Summer is the season that Bill Barrell enjoys the most.
Bathers, 42" x 48", 1996, oil on canvas

… When I lived in Provincetown, Massachusetts, I was in the water half the time. I had a sailboat, a big awkward thing, but it got me out to the Point where I could look back at the town with all of it’s crooked houses.  I would fish and swim. It was liberating to be without heavy clothing. Oh, I loved the other seasons but summer was special. I believe it stems from some miserable summers I spent in England growing up. It is impossible to stay in the water there for more than a few minutes.

I also summered in Maine for many years. The sea was hopelessly cold, worse than England. So we swam in the lakes. Many of my works echo those days. We would often swim in the buff. Swimming amongst the reeds was beautiful if there was a full moon! Frogs would croak, crickets would chirp and the loons would sound off across the lake to one another. They were fun filled days and my work would become fun filled too.

In Pembroke, Maine there was a waterfall where I would take my son Joshua. We would splish splash from one level to another and sit under the falls.  Small waterfalls appear often in my paintings reflecting those days of bliss.

It was even more exotic in the French West Indies where I lived for three winters. No waterfalls but water one could swim in for hours on end. Palm trees and soft breezes would make any time of day pleasurable.

Here in Easton, Pennslyvannia, I have recently been introduced to a swimming hole in the Bushkill River. I intend to take my grandchildren there to enjoy the peace and tranquility of such a bucolic environment. It’s soothing and restful.

These kinds of places crop up in my work from time to time. Here in “Bathers”, it feels like a conglomerate of all of these places.

Hard Knocks

Bill Barrell reflects on tough times and what it takes to manage to survive them.

Yellow Hand, 42" x 34", 1999, oil on canvas
Yellow Hand, 42″ x 34″, 1999, oil on canvas

…..I often think back to my mother and wonder how she survived the Blitz during the war, what with four kids and a husband in the army. I remember one Sunday night during the Blitz, we had set out the table for tea and seated ourselves around it eager to gobble down bread and jam and a chocolate cake that Mom made special for Sunday.


When all of a sudden, the sirens sounded the alarm.

Whoops! Up jumped us four kids all headed for our gas masks, rubber boots and rain coats, with Suskie the dog leading the way. It had become routine for this to happen at the sound of that alarm.

But this time, my mother’s voice boomed out, “SIT BACK DOWN! ADOLF HITLER IS NOT GOING TO SPOIL OUR SUNDAY TEA!” Back we all trooped to the table. We managed to finish our tea to the background music of some loud thumping and crashing.

I know that much of her resilience wore off on me and my brothers and sisters. It has paid off handsomely.

In late 2003, I was diagnosed with cancer. Whoa. That news kind of shakes one up a bit. There is a fast re-evaluation of your situation. Can you survive it? Can you deal with it in a sensible way? What is going to happen to the project you have going? How is the family going to take it? Will you see your daughter graduate? Well, the first thing I learned was to take it one step at a time.

This was not new to us. My wife had just been through the experience of breast cancer and a mastectomy. I had been the supportive one and now it was her turn to help me through it. She did so with flying colors.

At the same time, we had just bought a big old warehouse building that we were renovating into studio, living and storage space. The rental units were finished and rented, but we had to put a rush on things in late December ’03 for the other spaces as I was set for an operation on January 4th. We knew full well that I would not be able to handle the physical work after the operation.

Well, I managed to pull it all together and was able to move in right after my operation. There were many trips back and forth for the chemo and radiation, but I survived. I have periodic checkups and all has turned out well. I would have been whinnying with the angels above if not for modern medicine and the strength and resilience that I learned from my Mum.

One is not the same old self, but it is much better than the alternative.

I love you Mum. Wherever you are.