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 Patrocino Barela  (1908 - 1964)

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Lived/Active: New Mexico/Arizona / Mexico      Known for: hispanic mod-folk sculptor

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Ad Code: 3
Patrocino Barela
from Auction House Records.
Figure with Two Heads
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, I:
Patrociño Barela emerged in 1936 as one of America's most important artists when he was featured in a show of Federal Art Project artists in New York's Museum of Modern Art. He was the first Mexican-American artist to receive such a high degree of recognition. His carvings in native juniper wood depict deep psychological and mystical insights into the human condition.

The poet William Carlos Williams wrote of Barela,"... for wholehearted depth of purpose his figures have a comment to make on the age which is like a breath of fresh air."

When Barela made his debut on the national scene, he was hailed by "Time Magazine" as the "discovery of the year". The "New York Times" cited his work for showing "real force... there is crude, honest, personal expression in the small carvings". The Museum of Modern Art proclaimed him the "most dramatic discovery made in American art for the past several years".

While Barela did not remain a part of the national art scene during his lifetime, he became a legendary figure because of his deep spirituality and monumental talent as an artist. Today in New Mexico, nearly every santero (an artist who creates sacred images) recognizes Barela as a major inspiration.

Barela's art is not easily classified although his carvings display parallels to Romanesque art in their narrative quality and to Modernism in their sophisticated definition of space. There is also the aspect of the primitive, or of eros, as Barela is in touch with the life force, the deepest level of humanity shared by all peoples and all cultures. In this way his imagery suggests the tribal art of Polynesia, Africa, Meso-America, and the pre-Christian Middle East.

Barela was an authentic artist. While European Modernists such as Picasso strived to recreate archetypal images, for Barela, this came naturally. The impact of his carvings is visceral rather than intellectual, capable of calling up tears or laughter or wonderment.

The artist made his home in Cañon, New Mexico, outside of Taos. He never leamed much about writing, and he spent much of his life working on the farms and ranches of the Rocky Mountain states. He lived and died in poverty. His tragic death by fire took place in the workshop where he had carved some of the most profound art of our time.

Driven by the undeniable need to create, Barela created art that transcends time and place. His work comes from the roots of the land and Hispano society of New Mexico. The imagery he made, from the erotic to the tragic to the religious, shows individuals bearing the struggles of life. Barela eludes the many traps into which the work of lesser artists fall to achieve penetrating insights into our deepest emotions.

ReSources include: EDWARD GONZALES AND DAVID L. WITT - Harwood Foundation of University of New Mexico

Biography from The Owings Gallery:
This biography is from:

"Taos Artists and Their Patrons" by Suzan Campbell (general editor), Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, 1999

Patrocino Barela (c.1900 – 1964)

Sculptor, Woodcarver

Born in Bisbee, Arizona, around 1900, Barela arrived in Taos with his brother and their widowed father in 1908. For the next three years, Barela worked as child laborer, then left his family to begin a long period as an itinerant laborer in New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming, usually as a farmworker or sheepherder. In 1930, he returned to the Taos area, and married Remedios Josefa Trujillo y Vigil, a widow with four children, the following year.

Their marriage, and his new responsibilities, coincided with The Depression. Work became scarce. When he could not find other employment, Barela carved wood; even when his did find work, he often stayed up all night to carve. Eventually he was hired as a teamster through a government relief program, but continued to carve wooden sculptures featuring religious and secular themes, mostly involving human relationships.

In 1935, Barela’s carvings came to the attention of Vernon Hunter, head of the New Mexico Federal Art Project (FAP). Hunter invited Barela to transfer from Emergency Relief Administration employment to the FAP, where he could carve full-time. Barela soon began to attract critical notice when his carvings were included in an exhibition of WPA artists at the Museum of New Mexico’s Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe.

In 1936, when eight of his wood sculptures were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, again in an exhibition of WPA sponsored art, "Time" magazine declared him the “discovery of the year.” Except for his brief national recognition, Barela remained little known outside New Mexico.

In 1940, Hunter featured Barela in an exhibition at the University of New Mexico celebrating the state’s “Coronado Cuarto Centennial, 1540-1940.” He was one of the last artists to be let go from the FAP, in 1943. However, Barela made fewer and fewer sculptures in the last years of the program, returning to herding sheep and occasional farmwork.

However, by 1951, Barela was back in the Taos area and devoting his time to carving, often selling his work to the small following of dealers and other artists who collected his sculpture. By the 1950’s, galleries in Taos represented him, particularly La Galeria Escondida, where his work was shown along with Taos modernist art. He also bartered his carvings for food, liquor, or supplies. Among his patrons was Helene Wurlitzer, who assembled an outstanding collection of his sculptures. In October 1964, Barela died in an early morning fire in his shop, where he had fallen asleep while carving.

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Patrocino Barela is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Taos Pre 1940

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