This week I am heading to Provincetown Mass. Home to me ,as that is where I was transformed into an artist beginning at the age of 24, in 1956 and a new life began.
Today I read a wonderful review by Roberta Smith in the New York Times on a Hans Hofmann show at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich Conn. When I arrived to live in Provincetown in 1957 I heard of his school. I was surviving on a few dollars I had saved and becoming a student was out of the question. I did become friends with some of his students like Red Grooms ,Bob Beauchamp. Bob Thompson. I would go to the school to see them and often sat in on critiques. The one things I understood clearly was his theory of ” Push and pull” It seemed so clear to me but puzzled many of the students. Somehow I do not feel he has gotten the attention and credit that he deserves. Roberta Smith clears much of this up in her review. He has been thought of as an all over the place painter. People like art that conforms to a certain style and I think someone like Hoffman confuses them . This is not the artists fault it is more the fault of the viewer. It is understandable as it makes them feel they have to continually catch up. I mentioned format painting in my last blog. It can become boring to know what an artist is going to serve up. Hofmann undermines that and surprises one with different approaches. I learned much from him via his students and his work.
Hoffman seldom came to openings in Provincetown. But one time when I had a gallery, The Sun gallery, he came to my defense over a show that had been deemed pornographic by the police. The police said if I did not close the gallery I would be arrested. I opened regardless, and half the art community turned out in my defense as it was far from pornographic. It was a series of mono prints of the Three Graces, the police had said “Any with pubic hair were pornographic” All my supporters stood out on the street. Not long after I opened, waiting for the police to march through the door at any moment, I was surprised, Hofmann walked through the door instead. He looked at the work then turned to me and asked for a piece of paper. I handed him a piece of mate board and and he wrote a declaration of innocence stating how the nude was represented in all the major museums throughout Europe and the US. He left and everyone poured into the gallery and signed it. So I have a lot to be grateful for to Hans Hofmann. He saved my arse from jail, as the police backed off after that, and he pointed me in the right direction art wise and not to be afraid of different approaches to art.
I have been asked to explain my work at times. Here is an attempt.
For me to explain a painting is very difficult , more difficult than painting it. There are many format painters and I admire many of them but not all. Take for instance Wolf Kahn. He produces landscapes, New England landscapes, haystacks, barns , fields, houses all quiet well painted but always in the same way with good composition but the same sweet colours. Very attractive give us a view of common sights thing we are very aware of and hence salable . Or there is Alex Katz with the same style , faces that never smile and fingers, as Peter Scheljadale described as bananas. Now Mark Rothko hits the spot. He evokes moods and feelings through his colours.
I paint differently. When I approach a canvass I have no idea what is going to come out. I do not have a preconceived idea. Not that I don’t have ideas, I see shapes and forms, colours and images all the time , but they are laid away like bottles of wine to mature , to surface at a later date and incorporated into a work. For me each work is an adventure with a shape form or colour providing the key to a host of thoughts and associations. The result often surprises me. I realize this all comes from a journey into the labyrinth of the mind . It is not at all easy. Like I say I can admire some format painters and sometimes wish I where one. But my curiosity leads me down many paths and through strange doors. What do my paintings mean? When they come to a conclusion it is like a spiritual moment , one knows one has arrived. This does not answer ” What does your painting mean Mr Barrell ? You might ask Jo Bare the same question about his White on White paintings, I think the answer may be,” To provoke your thought process.” But it does answer how through a lot of work and deep thinking these things come about. A painting should evoke a deep emotion and be an energy source. Why are people flooding museums in record numbers. It is to refresh themselves with the thought provoking, energizing ideas that art generates and needs little explaining and as through history, from cave painting to our present day it weaves the continuing connections of our being.
When is a work finished? When a collector takes it away. Here is an update on a work I have been working on for over a year. It seems at times to involve different aspects of my life. But then again it has elements of laying awake at four in the morning when all of the odd aspects of life come to mind.