John Passmore is the Archives Manager at WNYC.
Will Barnet on WNYC: 40 Years Ago Today
November 14, 1972
Wednesday, November 14, 2012 - 11:58 AM
The Archives Department celebrates the life of artist Will Barnet with this WNYC interview from 1972, precisely 40 years ago today. Last year, at the age of 100, Barnet had a widely acclaimed retrospective at the National Academy. The show highlighted a long and prolific career for an artist whose worked spanned - and survived - every important artistic movement in the 20th century. Barnet passed away yesterday.
This interview on WNYC's Views on Art came on the heels of another Barnet retrospective, this one at the Association of American Artists. Host Ruth Bowman and Barnet talk about his childhood, his process, and his artistic pedagogy.
"I look at portraiture painting as a work of art, not as portraiture," Barnet says. To Barnet, the history of portraiture had up until recently been fairly prosaic. Artists in the English school, for example, would paint the head of a person and assistants would fill in the rest of the canvas. Barnet thinks portraiture can be more than just this kind of surface rendering or figurative representation. Rather, the painting of a person is a conception. "You put the person in a field of vision that relates to their background and psychological feelings," Barnet says. This technique allows the portrait to become a "total universe."
Bowmen comments that Barnet's use of color is unique and that he does not necessarily ascribe to the color theories of other artists. Barnet agrees: to him, form is of the utmost importance. "My idea of color is not of its aftereffects or how colors affect each other next to each other." His concept of color is more one of "weight and skin", unlike an impressionist's approach of light and dark. And Barnet's studied and measured use of color seems reflective of his practice in general. "Mine is an art of deduction. I start with complexity and I reduce it down to simplicity. It seems to be my pattern."
At the time of this interview, conceptual, installation, and performance arts had reached a certain level of maturity. Their ideas seemed largely in opposition to the meditative and serene expressions of Barnet's painting and drawings. In this interview, Bowman is curious about Barnet's take on these "new directions in art." Unwilling to give too much away Barnet says, "The directions are so diffuse. There really is no answer at this moment."