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 Will R. Barnet  (1911 - 2012)

About: Will R. Barnet
 

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Lived/Active: New York/Massachusetts      Known for: printmaking, stylized portraits, female figures

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BIOGRAPHY for Will Barnet
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Birth
1911 (Beverly, Massachusetts)
 
Death
2012 (New York City)

Lived/Active
New York/Massachusetts

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printmaking, stylized portraits, female figures

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is the obituary of the artist from The New York Times

Will Barnet, Visionary Artist, Dies at 101
By KEN JOHNSON
Published: November 13, 2012
  
Will Barnet, a printmaker and painter known for elegantly stylized portraits and classically composed visions of beautiful women and children, died on Tuesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 101.

His death was announced by Philippe Alexandre, whose gallery represented him. He had lived in the National Arts Club building on Gramercy Park since 1982.

In the prints and paintings that he produced from the mid-1960s on, Mr. Barnet ranged between a simplified form of realism and a poetic, visionary symbolism. A skilled draftsman, he created exactingly linear, subtly colored portraits of family members and friends. In the enigmatic pictures he began making in the 1970s, he conjured images of women in dark woods or on the porches of seaside houses who appear to be waiting for loved ones like 19th-century sailors’ wives.

A native of Beverly, Mass., Mr. Barnet attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and, on a scholarship, went to New York to study at the Art Students League, arriving in 1931, he once said, with $10 and a portfolio of seascapes and portraits of the family cat. He worked briefly under Stuart Davis and became acquainted with the Surrealist artist Arshile Gorky.

Mr. Barnet started out as a Social Realist printmaker responding to the struggles of ordinary people during the Depression. He was “radicalized” at 19, he said, roaming the city and sketching the faces of the downtrodden while renting a room for $1 a night.

Four years after joining the Art Students League he was appointed its official printer. He went on to work in graphic arts for the Depression-era Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project. He also made prints for the Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco and the painter and political cartoonist William Gropper.

Mr. Barnet had his first solo exhibition at the Eighth Street Playhouse in Manhattan in 1935 and, three years later, his first gallery show at the Hudson Walker Gallery, also in Manhattan. That same year he married Mary Sinclair, a painter and fellow student, with whom he had three sons. In 1939 his work was included in “American Art Today” at the New York World’s Fair.

Eventually his interest in Modernist formal innovations led to colorful, Picassoesque paintings depicting domestic family scenes, often featuring young children, and by the end of the 1940s his paintings had become entirely abstract. He soon fell in with a group known as the Indian Space Painters, who created geometrically complex abstract paintings using forms derived from both Native American art and modern European painting.

But Mr. Barnet returned to traditionalist representational painting in the early 1960s. Under the influences of early Renaissance painting, Japanese printmaking and, perhaps obliquely, Pop Art, he made flattened, precisely contoured portraits of the architect Frederick Kiesler, the art critic Katherine Kuh and the art collector Roy Neuberger.

By then he was divorced and had married Elena Ciurlys in 1953. They had a daughter, Ona, and both she and her mother were subjects of his portraits as well. His later images of mysterious waiting women showed the influences of Pre-Raphaelite narratives, Magritte’s Surrealism and Edward Hopper’s taciturn romanticism.

In 2003 Mr. Barnet again changed course, returning to abstraction and resuming the engagement with bold shapes, vivid color and dynamic compositions that characterized his painting in the 1950s. He continued to work into his 90s, and in 2010 he was honored with an exhibition, “Will Barnet and the Art Students League,” at the Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery in Manhattan. He began teaching graphic arts and composition for the league in 1936, became an instructor of painting and continued to teach at the school until 1980.

“I didn’t compromise, ever,” he said in an interview with The New York Times on the occasion of the exhibition. “The old masters are still alive after 400 years, and that’s what I want to be.”

Mr. Barnet was born on May 25, 1911. His father, Noah, who had immigrated from Russia, was a machinist in a shoe factory. His mother, Sarahdina, came from Eastern Europe. Mr. Barnet became interested in art as a child and by age 12 had his own studio in his parents’ basement.

He is survived by his wife, as well as his sons from his first marriage — Peter, a painter; Richard, a sculptor; and Todd, a lawyer — and the daughter from his second marriage, Ona, who owns and operates an inn in Maine; nine grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

In addition to the Art Students League, Mr. Barnet taught at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art from 1945 to 1978 and, in shorter stints, at Yale, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and other schools. He was awarded a National Medal of Arts from 2011, which was presented by President Obama in a White House ceremony this year.

It was in 2011 when the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey exhibited a selection of his canvases in honor of his centennial year. His work was also shown in many solo and group shows around the United States, including six appearances in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s annual exhibitions. He was the subject of several museum retrospectives. “Will Barnet at 100,” presented at the National Academy Museum in 2011, was the last. It was also his first solo retrospective in New York.

Mr. Barnet’s first encounters with art were the carvings of skeletal heads and other images on colonial tombstones in a local cemetery in Beverly.

“These were mementos of what had taken place,” he recalled. “At the age of 10 or 12, I discovered that being an artist would give me an ability to create something which would live on after death.”

Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
From Beverly, Massachusetts, Will Barnet became a leading 20th-century New York based artist, best known for figurative paintings enhanced by abstract arrangements and printmaking.  He was a key figure in the New York movement called Indian Space Painting, artists who based their abstract and semi-abstract work on Native American art.

Barnet studied at the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts from 1928 to 1930, and then at the Art Students League in New York, where he focused on printmaking. He taught briefly at Cornell, Yale, Cooper Union, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Museum School, Boston.  In 1934, he became the printer for the League, and from 1945 to 1980 was Instructor of Painting at the League.

Throughout his career he worked in both woodcuts, etching, and lithographs.  Barnet was quoted: "I wasn't so concerned with beautiful line, mass interested me more than line.  The hardest thing is to take line and make it into something that is contained." His woodcuts are starkly black and white, and the lithographs have a full range of tones.

Until 1939, his style was realistic, but he did many abstract paintings of social realist themes between 1940s and 1960, but they were much more controlled than those of many of his contemporary Abstract Expressionist peers.

In fact, many of his pieces were purely geometric, exploring the rectangle.  In the latter part of his career of over 80 years, he explored both abstraction and realism, with all of them carefully executed.

Robert Doty, art historian, called Barnet, "a master of the abstract statement. . .creating images of personal vision which rank with the best of their time."

Source:
Editor, "Will Barnet, Works of Six Decades" American Art Review, June-July 1994


Biography from GallArt.com:
Will Barnet, a printmaker and painter known for elegantly stylized portraits and classically composed visions of beautiful women and children, died on Tuesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 101.

His death was announced by Philippe Alexandre, whose gallery represented him. He had lived in the National Arts Club building on Gramercy Park since 1982.

In the prints and paintings that he produced from the mid-1960s on, Mr. Barnet ranged between a simplified form of realism and a poetic, visionary symbolism. A skilled draftsman, he created exactingly linear, subtly colored portraits of family members and friends. In the enigmatic pictures he began making in the 1970s, he conjured images of women in dark woods or on the porches of seaside houses who appear to be waiting for loved ones like 19th-century sailors’ wives.

A native of Beverly, Mass., Mr. Barnet attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and, on a scholarship, went to New York to study at the Art Students League, arriving in 1931, he once said, with $10 and a portfolio of seascapes and portraits of the family cat. He worked briefly under Stuart Davis and became acquainted with the Surrealist artist Arshile Gorky.

Mr. Barnet started out as a Social Realist printmaker responding to the struggles of ordinary people during the Depression. He was “radicalized” at 19, he said, roaming the city and sketching the faces of the downtrodden while renting a room for $1 a night.

Four years after joining the Art Students League he was appointed its official printer. He went on to work in graphic arts for the Depression-era Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project. He also made prints for the Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco and the painter and political cartoonist William Gropper.

Mr. Barnet had his first solo exhibition at the Eighth Street Playhouse in Manhattan in 1935 and, three years later, his first gallery show at the Hudson Walker Gallery, also in Manhattan. That same year he married Mary Sinclair, a painter and fellow student, with whom he had three sons. In 1939 his work was included in “American Art Today” at the New York World’s Fair.

Eventually his interest in Modernist formal innovations led to colorful, Picassoesque paintings depicting domestic family scenes, often featuring young children, and by the end of the 1940s his paintings had become entirely abstract. He soon fell in with a group known as the Indian Space Painters, who created geometrically complex abstract paintings using forms derived from both Native American art and modern European painting.

But Mr. Barnet returned to traditionalist representational painting in the early 1960s. Under the influences of early Renaissance painting, Japanese printmaking and, perhaps obliquely, Pop Art, he made flattened, precisely contoured portraits of the architect Frederick Kiesler, the art critic Katherine Kuh and the art collector Roy Neuberger.

By then he was divorced and had married Elena Ciurlys in 1953. They had a daughter, Ona, and both she and her mother were subjects of his portraits as well. His later images of mysterious waiting women showed the influences of Pre-Raphaelite narratives, Magritte’s Surrealism and Edward Hopper’s taciturn romanticism.

In 2003 Mr. Barnet again changed course, returning to abstraction and resuming the engagement with bold shapes, vivid color and dynamic compositions that characterized his painting in the 1950s. He continued to work into his 90s, and in 2010 he was honored with an exhibition, “Will Barnet and the Art Students League,” at the Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery in Manhattan. He began teaching graphic arts and composition for the league in 1936, became an instructor of painting and continued to teach at the school until 1980.

“I didn’t compromise, ever,” he said in an interview with The New York Times on the occasion of the exhibition. “The old masters are still alive after 400 years, and that’s what I want to be.”

Mr. Barnet was born on May 25, 1911. His father, Noah, who had immigrated from Russia, was a machinist in a shoe factory. His mother, Sarahdina, came from Eastern Europe. Mr. Barnet became interested in art as a child and by age 12 had his own studio in his parents’ basement.

He is survived by his wife, as well as his sons from his first marriage — Peter, a painter; Richard, a sculptor; and Todd, a lawyer — and the daughter from his second marriage, Ona, who owns and operates an inn in Maine; nine grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

In addition to the Art Students League, Mr. Barnet taught at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art from 1945 to 1978 and, in shorter stints, at Yale, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and other schools. He was awarded a National Medal of Arts from 2011, which was presented by President Obama in a White House ceremony this year.

It was in 2011 when the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey exhibited a selection of his canvases in honor of his centennial year. His work was also shown in many solo and group shows around the United States, including six appearances in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s annual exhibitions. He was the subject of several museum retrospectives. “Will Barnet at 100,” presented at the National Academy Museum in 2011, was the last. It was also his first solo retrospective in New York.

Mr. Barnet’s first encounters with art were the carvings of skeletal heads and other images on colonial tombstones in a local cemetery in Beverly.

“These were mementos of what had taken place,” he recalled. “At the age of 10 or 12, I discovered that being an artist would give me an ability to create something which would live on after death.”

Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, A-D):
Born in 1911 in Beverly, Massachusetts, as a child Barnet enjoyed climbing the hills to watch the ships in the harbor, playing baseball, and reading at the local public library. He was excited to discover the art section. As he remembers, “ I used to bury myself in those rooms day after day. It was practically my whole life. That’s where my first yearning for art began.” (1) At the age of 12 he established a studio in his parent’s basement where he drew and painted. He made frequent trips to Boston and Salem to explore the collections of the Peabody and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Continually dissatisfied with high school, in his last year he decided to leave. In 1927 Barnet enrolled at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston where he learned drawing, painting, anatomy, and art history in the European tradition.

After several years, Barnet decided to continue his study at the Art Student’s League in New York, where he developed an interest in lithography, etching, and woodcutting. Between 1932 and 1942 Barnet became an avid printmaker, using the medium to capture the economic and social despair of the Depression years. He was a member of the Graphic Art Division of the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project and knew the Mexican artists José Clemente Orozco, for whom he printed lithographs, and Diego Rivera. In 1935 he married the painter and fellow student Mary Sincliar and the following year was appointed instructor of graphics at the Art Student’s League. He would subsequently teach at the New School for Social Research, at New Jersey State Teachers College, and from 1945-1978 at Cooper Union in New York.

Following the birth of his first son in 1938, Barnet made his wife and children his sole artistic subjects. He painted scenes of domesticity such as "Soft Boiled Eggs," 1946 and "Summer Family," 1948 (Philadelphia Museum of Art) using bright, emotive colors and cubist-inspired from. These abstractions attest to his careful study of the great modern artists such as Matisse, Picasso and, Léger. Focusing on images of family Barnet was “trying to purge himself of the subject, searching for the essence in the act of painting.” (2) However, this period domestic harmony was short-lived, as Barnet divorced his wife in 1952 and the following year married the modern dancer Elena Ciurlys.

Throughout the fifties and into the early sixties Barnet painted abstractly, moving from the figure to cityscape and landscape painting. Although he lived in Manhattan, he traveled frequently during this period in America and Europe. He spent summers in Provincetown Massachusetts, in Duluth Minnesota, where he taught a 1959 summer session at the University of Minnesota, and in Spokane, Washington, where he taught during the summer of 1963. While these trips fueled his interest in representing the American landscape through form and color, in the early sixties the figure reappeared as the primary subject in Barnet’s art. He painted portraits of his wife and daughter, as well as friend and artist Henry Pearson (Metropolitan Museum of Art), and collector Roy R. Neuberger. By the seventies he joined his interest in figurative and landscape painting in works that combined the female form with the organic images of forest, sky, and sea.

Over the course of his career Barnet exhibited extensively both in galleries and at major museums including the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Des Moines Art Center, and the Mint Museum. His works are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Tweed Museum of Art, University of Minnesota, the Museum of Modern Art, the University Art Museum, University of California at Berkeley, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia.

1. Robert Doty, "Will Barnet" (New York: Harry N. Abrams), 20.

2. Ibid, 38.

© Copyright 2008 Hollis Taggart Galleries

Biography from Ebo Gallery:
Will Barnet was born in 1911. Mr. Barnet trained at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School and the Art Students League New York. By 1936 he had established himself as a professional printer and the youngest instructor of graphic arts ever to hold a faculty position at the Arts Students League. He later taught art at such leading American schools as Yale University and Cornell University.

By the 1940s, Barnet was well known as a painter and printmaker.  A prolific graphic artist, Barnet changed his style significantly at different points in his career. His earliest works were influenced by expressionism; they were followed by abstract works in the 1950s and 1960s, and finally evolved into more figurative works of silhouetted forms set against geometrically designed backgrounds.

His work has been exhibited in prominent museums and galleries in the United States and Canada and is included in many prestigious collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the National Gallery of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Works

Barnet’s works, while remaining universal, reference his own personal history complete with images of his wife, his daughter and their family pets. As James Thomas Flexner wrote, Barnet’s work “makes us experience the interplay between the personal and the universal.” While remaining representational, the simple elegance of the figures and their flat surfaces reflect his exploration with abstraction. He was a key figure in the New York movement called Indian Space Painting, artists who based their abstract and semi-abstract work on Native American art. For many years he pursued abstraction in painting, then a fashionable trend in the USA. His later work returned to figurative painting. He is probably best know for his enigmatic portraits of family, made from the 1970s onwards, notable the Silent Seasons series. However, his earlier works maintain an edginess and brooding contemplation that is even more remarkable when compared with the more placid and pretty works which followed his second marriage.
Selected Exhibitions

He has been the subject of over eighty solo exhibitions held at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of American Art of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the National Academy of Design Museum, the National Museum of American Art, Montclair Art Museum,and the Boca Raton Museum of Art among others.
Awards and Honors

Barnet has been the recipient of numerous awards including the first Artist’s Lifetime Achievement Award Medal given on the occasion of the National Academy of Design’s 175th anniversary, the College Art Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art’s Lippincott Prize, and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters’ Childe Hassam Prize. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Design, The Century Association, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Barnet has defined an artistic career that, in the words of Robert Doty, “has always gone beyond the limitations of modern art because his work affirms a faith in life.”

Mr. Barnet, now 98, still works every day.

Biography from RoGallery.com:
Will Barnet was born in Beverly, Massachusetts, and studied at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School and then at the Art Students League in New York.  He cites Daumier as his first great inspiration at the age of 14, both for "his profound vision of life and his unequalled draftsmanship."  From the earliest years, Barnet valued concept equally with technique.  Printmaking gave him a wider, freer means of expression although painting has remained another important medium throughout his career.

His work of the 1930s and 1940s deals with the social themes in the forefront of the Depression era, but also the more personal theme of the mother and child.  He later taught art at such leading American schools as Yale University, Cornell University, and the Art Students League (1936-1981) and at Cooper Union (1948 - 1978).  He was a visiting professor at many colleges.

Among his students at Copper Union were Mark Rothko and Cy Twombly. Christopher B. Crosman, director of the Farnsworth Museum, states the mark of a great teacher is "to insist on individual integrity and the value of finding one's own vision and artistic voice." Crosman called Barnet "one of the art world's great humanitarians-mentor, exemplar, helping hand, and wise friend (Will Barnet: The Nineties).

A prolific graphic artist, Barnet changed his style significantly at different points in his career.  His earliest works were influenced by Expressionism; they were followed by abstract works in the 1950s and 1960s, and finally evolved into more figurative works of silhouetted forms set against geometrically designed backgrounds. Barnet has worked in most print media. 

Barnet's exhibition record extends from 1934 to 2002 and includes the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

His work is in the collections of American museums including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Art Institute of Chicago,; Corcoran Gallery of Art; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Museum of Modern Art; Museum of Fine Art, Boston; National Gallery of Art; Phillips Collection; Seattle Art Museum; and the Whitney Museum of American Art.


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