Tag Archives: Bill Barrell

Albrecht Durer ( the projectionist )


The Vision projector'
The Vision projector’

Albrecht Durer loved projection. He would have had great fun with today’s technology. In the fifteenth century, as an artist, one had to be a great draftsman. They expressed themselves but not in the manner we do today. Things have truly evolved in that respect.

If we go back to cave painting, we can see how they expressed themselves beautifully without draftsmanship as we know it. On The Island of  Saint John in the Virgin Islands, I trekked down into a valley to see hieroglyphs. They were hard to find. But finally, we did. There were about three small pieces carved into stone at the foot of a water fall and as it had not rained for awhile we could see them clearly. They were beautiful expressive faces with a design around them somewhat like a snake. I  think this work would come under the heading of primitive or Caribbean art. I have a problem with this description. It’s art. I would like to see the art world stop pigeonholing art. When they speak of African American art it separates it from what? Eskimo art, Puerto Rican art. Why say Afro American?

Do we say European American art when we talk about William de Kooning or Piet Mondrian? No, we just call them American  artists. Art produced by any nationality is just art.

Bob Thompson often comes under the heading , African American Artist. African art is fantastic, but why co-mingle it with an American artist who’s family has lived in America long before de Kooning and Mondrian came over. Or me, I was born in England and I am not regarded as an English American artist.

Why are there Folk artists? Why do we separate the arts? My friend Bob Thompson was a great  artist. He could translate Goya, Valesquez and the Renaissance painters every bit as well as Picasso could translate  them for us. We don’t refer to Picasso as ” Spanish French Artist. There is talk of where he came from but that’s all.

Thompson was just a great American artist who burned out at 29, not an Afro American artist. He has had great success, but,  I think this label  has done him more harm than good. Artists like Red Grooms, Lester Johnson, Bob Beauchamp and myself who were and are in pursuit of  different approaches to humanism are not pigeonholed. So let’s call artists artists and stop with the pigeon holing.

Back to Albrect Durer. As artists we  project our inner thoughts onto a canvas. In this work, I like the idea of making an image of what could be Durer but in an opposite mode of what he was trying for. A work on canvas is two dimensional and artists have constantly tried to attain depth and perspective. That is a practice that can be deceptive. or illusional. It  is still two dimensional no matter how many train tracks disappear into the distance. Sculptors can achieve three dimensions but you still cannot see the whole thing. Its like as humans we can never see our own faces in 3D. Every other part of our body but never our face.  In a mirror it is two dimensions. So a painting theoretically is more complete than sculpture. So be it sculpture or painting, both come from our projection onto it. Durer was trying to project a perfect image whereas today we project our feelings onto a material.

So I enjoyed doing a work that showed a projectionist  working on perfection in a very imperfect way.

Massacre of the Innocent

Child Killers, oil on canvas, 14"x17", 1980 by Bill Barrell
Child Killers, oil on canvas, 14″x17″, 1980 by Bill Barrell

The recent massacre in Newtown, CT USA reminds me of a painting I did in 1980 that was triggered by reading of the Mai Lai killing during the Vietnam War. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and I hope my painting does express my feelings about innocent people being killed during a war. However, I would like to say a few words about the current killing of innocent children and adults in Newtown, CT.

This incident can happen again and will happen again if we do not change the laws. This is not an easy thing to do because of the Second Amendment. But the NRA has to be brought into check otherwise the slaughtering will go on. Members of Congress and the Senate have to be made painfully aware of this through the vote and to realize they will have blood on their hands. They have to also realize that bullying by the gun lobby has to come to an end.

I live in Pennsylvania and have made my views known to all the representatives I support, that if they continued to be bullied by the gun lobby my support would end as it would mean blood on my hands too. I was happy to hear that Senator Bob Casey, a staunch gun advocate, has decided to change his views on gun laws. I hope he has come to this conclusion by himself. But I like to think that my telling him I would not support him, and encouraging others to do the same, has budged him from his stance.

I urge anyone reading this who is in line with my views to follow suit.  Contact your representatives.

Let’s not wait for another tragedy.


Dancing Paint

A painting may begin with just an idea or a stroke of the brush, but as Bill Barrell will tell you…. 

Dancing Paint
Dancing Paint, oil on canvas painting, 2009

– Paintings often spring out of nowhere. Working on a blank canvas for me is great.  I am not a format painter, so I am left free to look at things and feel things in a different way. Here in this work, I started out wanting to just deal with squares, or square-like shapes. The square shapes worked well alone, but I had a nagging feeling something could be added to make it work even better. It’s a bit of a gamble as one can take a perfectly good work and mess it up! At the same time – once the idea of adding to a painting takes hold, there is no going back.

Often this approach backfires and one can end up with an awful mess. However, when it works, it gives a great feeling of confidence. When it doesn’t work it means taking the mess you have made and heading in a totally different direction. I can never give up on a painting. I wrestle with it until it works.

One time in frustration at what was showing up on the canvas, I tore it into one inch bands and then braided the canvas back together. It worked well as it totally destroyed the image I was wrestling with and it resurfaced into a beautiful object that I could hang on the wall like a quilt.

This painting ended up quite well. The circle shapes did what I wanted them to do by bringing the square shapes to life. It’s as if all the shapes have dancing partners – they give each other motion. The surface becomes vibrant without being eye popping. I named this painting, “Dancing Paint.” –

Colossal Fruit and Vegetable Show

Recently, a video was posted on YouTube of Bill Barrell’s Colossal Fruit and Vegetable Show at the Essex Street Market in New York City back in 1969.  He was asked to talk a little about that show and how it came about.  This is what he had to say.

Colossal Fruit and Vegetable Show shopping bag
One of the actual shopping bags from Bill Barrell's 1969 Colossal Fruit and Vegetable Show at the Essex Street Market in New York City

– It was back in 1965 when I had moved back to the US from Spain, where my son Joshua was born. I had lived in Spain for close to two years and moving to the Lower East Side of NYC was a cultural shock. In Spain, we had lived in the bucolic countryside in Ibiza. In our first apartment on 11th Street in NYC, we got robbed. So, I looked for a loft and found one on Rivington and Bowery – $100 a month for 2,500 square feet. But then, another came up for $90 a month with the same square footage. It was on Pitt Street, way over by the Williamsburg Bridge between Delancy and Rivington Streets. Ten dollars made a big difference in those days.  I took it. The owner of the building ran a soda making business on the ground floor and you had to step over the drunks to get into the building.

We had lived there for a year or so when I had the idea of opening a gallery. I mentioned it to some friends and they all thought I was crazy. Why would anyone go to the lower east side to see art? I went ahead anyway. I called it the Pitt St Salon, printed my own announcements and did a big mailing. Grace Gluck of the New York Times happened to be doing an article at the time called, “Alternate Spaces”. She called me wanting to know what made me open a gallery way downtown. I told her I had a lot of work I had brought back from Spain but could not find a gallery interested in showing them.  I think her article helped. We opened and to everyone’s surprise, the show drew a huge crowd.

 Hudson Walker, who had bought some of my work in Provincetown came to the show and he bought three pieces. Later, I would take work up to his office on 45th Street. It was always at the end of the workday and he would drag out a bottle of bourbon and place it on the green felt pad that he used to pour diamonds onto. One time, actually the last time I saw him, he told me that I was the best painter since Marsden Hartley.  He was a patron of Hartley’s, who had died a year or so before that and I was please to think I could replace his love for Hartley. Unfortunately, Huddy died the following year. The last time I took work to his office, he said, “I am not fond of any of these”, but quickly said, “you probably need money.” I always needed money. He gave me a check for $400. I still owe him a work.

Bob Wiegand had asked me at the opening how I had attracted such a crowd. I told him I thought downtown was ready for some changes. He loved what I had done and told me he was putting together a show called “10 Downtown”. He and the other nine artists put a lot of effort into it and it was a great success. All of these artists were located south of Houston near Broadway. This area was not known at the time as SoHo. I believe that when people saw what beautiful spaces artists lived in it triggered the move downtown.

So – I would shop at the Essex Street Market. One day, noticing some empty stalls, I thouht what a good idea it would be to rent one and do a show – bring the art right to the people!  The idea sat there germinating. Finally, I thought why not mirror what was already there only on a gigantic scale, fruits and vegetables. So, I made huge tomatoes, bananas, eggplant, potoatoes, etc out of styrofoam. Even the scales and weights were foam. We printed up the announcements on shopping bags. Finally – the opening. It was grand. The little old shopping ladies were taken by surprise.

My younger brother Budge was taking a course on filmmaking at the time. He came and made a project out of it and managed to catch the essence of the whole thing, the curious regulars and my friends who had showed up. It shows Mimi Gross and Red Grooms deciding which bag of carrots to buy. Many of our family showed up. My Mum was caught on film buying an enormous eggplant, my sister Janet showing interest in the big string of garlic that Irene had made. Irene is caught on tape articulating about why we did the show. The moviemaker, Ken Jacobs came. We had shown his work at the Sun Gallery back in 1960. He made 3D slides of it catching some great moments. I have to thank Irene for all of her input and both my brother Budge and Ken Jacobs for documenting it. –