From London, England to Provincetown, Massachusetts
My name is Bill Barrell and I was born in London, England in December of 1932. I emigrated to the United States in 1954 and lived in Philadelphia for a few years before I moved on to spend my early adult years in New York City.
My painting life really began when I ventured to Provincetown, Massachusetts and set up my first studio next door to Hans Hoffman’s School of Fine Art. I didn’t have much money then. I was unable to actually attend the school but I was able to learn a lot by auditing Hoffman’s critiques. I also became close friends with some of Hoffman’s students like Bob Beauchamp, Red Grooms and Bob Thompson.
I had my very first show at the Sun Gallery in Provincetown in 1959. I then took over the Sun Gallery in 1960 and continued the tradition of showing figurative expressionist work by such artists as Bob Beauchamp, Bob Thompson, Tony Vevers and Red Grooms (Grooms had his first “Happening” at the Sun Gallery). Claes Oldenburg’s first show was also at The Sun Gallery. One exhibition of monotypes by Tony Vevers was threatened of closure by the chief of police who had been to the exhibition and declared it pornographic. (read my blog on this story)
The Traveling 60s
The early 60s took me to Mexico. London, Paris, Florence and Madrid before I settled for awhile in Ibiza, Spain where my son Joshua was born. By chance, I also met up again with Bob Thompson – our studios being just a short distance apart.
Pitt Street Salon, New York City
In 1964, I returned to the Lower East Side of New York City. Hooking up with old friends, Jay Milder, Peter Dean, Peter Passuntino and Nick Sperakis, we formed a figurative expressionist artist group known as Rhino Horn. By being the first group on the discussion panels, Rhino Horn helped Bob Wiegand establish the Artists Talk on Art, which still flourishes today. When I opened my studio on Pitt Street in NYC, naming it the Pitt St. Salon,
Grace Gluck of The New York Times wrote in her article (titled “Alternative Spaces” ) that the Pitt St Salon and a few others had opened their studio spaces to the public. She encouraged other artists to follow suit and by doing so artists would not have to wait for galleries to take interest in their work. Painters and sculptors in the area soon did this to great success. Bob Wiegand and other painters and sculptors in the area called themselves The Downtown Ten. The area was later to become “Soho”.
Maine and St. Barth’s
I then spent time in the early 70’s between Maine and St. Barth’s in the French West Indies. In 1974, I returned once more to NYC to set up a studio in Long Island City and then in 1977 moved into a loft on Lafayette and Houston Street in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood.
With Warren Tanner and ten other artists, we established the Organization of Independent Artists (OIA). The purpose of the organization was to get more exposure in public buildings which we did by showing in major court houses and administration buildings in NYC and Washington DC.
In 1980, I moved again with my wife Marilyn and new baby girl, Liza. This time to Jersey City, NJ. There I set up a studio in an old tobacco factory at 111 First Street.
111 First Street soon became a home for over 120 artists. Later, together with others, I helped to establish ProArts, an organization that assisted artists in finding work and exhibition space. During that time the owners of 111 First Street had allotted 8000 sq. ft of the building as exhibition space. Many of those exhibitions were reviewed by the NY Times.
So from the early 1980s through 2001, I was able to produce and exhibit many works. Space to paint and space to store work were not a problem. I had even set up my own little gallery in my studio called “The Shoestring Gallery”. I showed my own work as well as many other artists from 111 First Street. It came to an end, however, when the building was condemned and everyone was given notice to move out. Note that it was during this time period that I was also invited to Louisiana State University (LSU) as a visiting artist (1982).
Before 111 First Street closed down completely, a friend and I had found an old warehouse in Easton, PA in which to create studio spaces. We were able to carve out studios, living spaces and the bonus – storage spaces. Marilyn and I were able to complete our move in early 2002. In 2003, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer and underwent two years of treatment. Thanks to modern medicine, I am still here. My cancer has now been in remission for 10 years.
I am now able to live on one floor, paint in my studio on another floor and then lower my finished paintings to the storage space below where they are prepared for shipping to galleries and collectors. I spend my days painting, enjoying my family and playing with my grandchildren, Ruby and Oliver. Life is truly good.