Category Archives: Things I Remember

Bill Barrell relates a story from his life that has to do with his painting life, but not necessarily a particular painting.

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.


The Warning

Older people always think they know better and so often they do. Many times they don’t.

"Let Me Tell You"
Let Me Tell You, oil on canvas, 48" x 60", 1980


I recall a time many years ago when I had a gallery in Provincetown and was presenting a beautiful show of monotypes by Tony Vevers. Each monotype depicted the three graces, each celebrating in some way. It was a grand opening on a warm summer evening and everything went well – until the next evening.

Some time before 9 pm, the chief of the Provincetown police and his partner swaggered into the gallery eating double headed ice cream cones, chocolate and raspberry flavors. Fully armed with night sticks, guns, badges, handcuffs and the ubiquitous yellow line running down their pants. They walked around the gallery looking at the monotypes while slurping their dual flavored ice cream cones – and snickering.  The chief came over to me and asked what I called this work. I told him that it was a form of printing known as monoprint, which means each was one of a kind. He said no, what I mean is, What is it? I told him it is art. He responded, well, I’ll tell you what I think it is. I think it’s pornographic.

I was a little taken aback and asked what is pornographic about them? Any of the work that shows pubic hair, he answered. Well, there were none that were void of pubic hair. He demanded that I close the show at once. I told him that we were to close at ten.  Now, he said, and left.

It was just around 9 pm at this time. I was perplexed and thought maybe they were having me on, though it seemed they were serious enough. I took a chance and did not start closing until five to ten. The police returned at ten as I was shutting down the lights. They walked right in and said, I told you to close. I am closing, I answered. Well, if this exhibition opens tomorrow, both you AND Tony Vevers will be arrested. On that, they left.

I thought the best thing to do was to find Tony, he was older than me, to find out what we should do.

Now, Tony was at a party at Fritz Bultman’s, a second generation and second rate abstract painter who was second rate in my estimation and I was not fond of his superior attitude towards younger painters. I picked up my wife Irene and proceeded to Bultman’s house, high on a hill with many, many steps up to it. Finally, I found Tony and told him of our plight with the police. This caused big excitement all around and every one had an idea. Fritz said not worry, he would call Anthony Taver, a selectman at the time. I told Fritz I did not feel that was the right thing to do and that it was a bit underhanded. Fritz flew into a rage. With one hand pointed to the sea, he told me to get off his property. Off Irene and I went down the long stairs. I realized how Adam and Eve must have felt being ejected.

Hudson Walker heard about our plight and offered his assistance by providing a lawyer. We met with the lawyer the very next morning, which happened to be a Sunday. Walker suggested we close because it was Sunday and Massachusetts had blue laws. No. I thought that would be capitulating to the police. Finally, with a compromise we would open but with a sheet halfway up the window. I have to say I wasn’t fond of this idea but I gave in to the older and supposedly wiser. After all, Norman Mailer had just had a run in with the police and won his case against them.

That night, we opened. The art community had heard of it and turned out in support. No one came in, everyone sat across the street waiting for the police to show. It was eerie. I felt like a goldfish.

Then, with a great rush of air, in walked Hans Hoffman, the renowned painter who seldom came to town. He walked around and looked at the work. Then he slowly turned to me and asked for paper and pencil. With a great flourish, he wrote a declaration of innocence stating that the nude could be found all through Europe – in the Vatican, the Louvre and in all major museums. He signed it and left. The crowd poured in and signed Hoffman’s manifesto.  Some of those signers were Milton Avery, Myron Stout, Walter P Chrysler, Karl Kanaths, Claes Oldenburg, Chaim Gross, Edith Ziegler. And me.

The show went on.

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. 

So if you are just visiting now or returning from a previous visit,  we hope you can explore a bit now.  We  also hope that you will keep us on your favorites list and return another time to see our updates.