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Robert Myrrden Barnes

 (born 1934)
Robert Myrrden Barnes is active/lives in Indiana, District Of Columbia.  Robert Barnes is known for large-scale abstract-figurative, genre.

Robert Myrrden Barnes

Biography from the Archives of askART

The following is from the artist's website, and much of the text is by C.S. Inghean:

Robert Barnes: "Tribute to an American Original"
by C.S. Inghean:

"It may be that the career of American artist Robert Myrrden Barnes (b. 1934) began in the Windy City Boxing Club on the South Side of Chicago in 1951. A real Chicago pug, Barnes literally fought his way to the top of the flyweight division, winning the golden gloves before he was seventeen. Although this title marked both the beginning and end of his boxing career, Barnes retained those characteristics of a boxer which continue to set him apart in the slightly more gentile art world: a mastery and gracefulness of form, an undeviating combative spirit, and a stubborn sense of individuality."

"Barnes has always occupied his own place outside the mainstream of contemporary art even though his art neither strays from the most conventional mediapigment on a flat supportnor the most conventional subject matternarrative art. Nevertheless, his own idiomatic manner of figuration within a narrative structure inspired by the stream-of-conscious prose of Edouard Dujardin and James Joyce has confounded the attempts of critics to categorize Barnes's art: he was not a member of the Chicago "Monster Roster" and is not an "imagist"; he is neither an abstract painter nor a realist painter; likewise Barnes is not a social-realist, a political activist, an ethnically or sexually marginalized "radical," and he is definitely not post modern."


1956 Bachelors of Fine Arts
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
1956 Bachelors of Fine Arts
The University of Chicago. Chicago, IL
1956 Columbia University, New York, NY
1957 Hunter College, New York, NY
1963 University of London. Slade School of Art, London. England

The artist was born in Washington DC, September 24, 1934 the second son of Mahlon Barnes and Marjorie Bain. During the second world war, Barnes spent his early childhood in Silver Springs, Maryland and the remainder growing up in Wilmette, Illinois from 1946-1952. Barnes' interests as a youth involved art, poetry and boxing. In 1952 Barnes graduated from New Trier High in Winneka, IL.

From this point Barnes' fate of becoming an artist was sealed after a visit to the Goodman Theater, which was connected to the Art Institute of Chicago. The intention of Barnes was to get information from the theater on how to explore his interest of becoming an actor. The Goodman, that day however, was closed but Barnes who was with a friend joined him on a whim in taking an entrance exam to The Art Institute of Chicago. What started out as happenstance became Barnes' acceptance into the Art Institute with a scholarship.

From 1952-56 Barnes attended both the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago attaining his Bachelors of Fine Arts degree. Fellow students whom he associated with were Claes Oldenburg, Jack Beal, Irving Petlin, Leon Golub, Ellen Lanyon, Robert Indiana, H.C. Westerman and Dennis Adrian. During this period, Barnes met art dealer Alan Frumkin at one of his first Exhibitions, "Exhibition Momentum 52' ". Barnes and Frumkin would later forge a twenty-five year working relationship.

In 1957 Barnes married fellow art student Lia Sayer. They were both 21 years old, very young and together, and they moved to New York City to pursue their graduate degrees at Hunter College and Columbia University.

In the late 1950's in NYC there were many expatriate Dada surrealists. Through his acquaintance with Matta, Barnes mixed with surrealist greats such as Duchamp, Ernst, Bill & Norma Copley, Hans Richter and art dealer Julian Levy. Among them the young artist felt encouraged and inspired. It was also at this time that Barnes was active in the James Joyce Society at Gotham Bookmark, this experience and the admiration for Joyce's writings along with other great works of literature would come to pervade Barnes' painting themes throughout his career's progression

The 1960's catapulted Barnes' career into full momentum and the turbulence of this era mirrored Barnes' personal struggles. In 1961, he was awarded the William and Norma Copley Foundation Prize for Painting. After being awarded a Fullbright Grant to study English portraiture during the same year, Barnes with his wife boarded and sailed the QE2 to live and study in London.

Attending the University of London, Slade School of Art 1961-1963, Barnes tutored under Sir William Coldstream and Francis Bacon. Francis Bacon was on the board of the London Arts Council and through him Barnes had access to the London Theatre's inner workings which became a huge influence in Barnes' figurative painting style.

Living on the Thames, in Hampton Court, Barnes was immersed in the London pop scene and though this genre never had an influence on his work he befriended pop artists such as Richard Hamilton, Richard Smith, Peter Blake and Joe Tilson.

On November 11th 1962, Barnes' first child a daughter was born in Kingston Upon the Thames.

In 1963, Barnes received the Guri Siever award from the Art Institute of Chicago and a renewed Fullbright Grant. Barnes returned to the U.S. to accept a visiting artist position at the Kansas Art Institute, Kansas City, where he met Thomas Hart Benton, and Andrew and Dahlia Morgan.

Barnes had an affinity for the American West due to a stay in New Mexico when he was a teenager. With Kansas City as a base, he enjoyed traveling and exploring Native American reservations, and was fascinated with the art, mysticism and lifestyle of the native peoples.

The following year in 1964 Barnes accepted a professors position at Indiana University in Bloomington, on tenure year track.That November 21st, Barnes' second child a son was born.

At I.U.'s fine art department Barnes taught graduate and under graduate painting along with colleagues Jim McGarrell and William Bailey. Newly settled in Bloomington, Barnes for the next 6 years painted diligently and showed often at Frumkin's galleries between New York and Chicago, a remarkable accomplishment due to the fact that Barnes' marriage at this point had become deeply troubled and disruptive. It can probably be said that the constant prodding by Frumkin and the artists' ambition enabled this progression. During this period Barnes made the acquaintance of Max Clarac in New York, and in 1967 he exhibited at the Gallerie "du dragon", Paris, France.

Finally legally separated from his wife Lia in 1970, Barnes produced a traveling show entitled "52 watercolors" which circulated across the United States. His divorce was finalized in '71 and by now he had been with the University long enough to take a paid sabbatical.

On June 10th 1972, Barnes was remarried to artist Nancy Morgan, whom he had met at I.U. and upon an invitation by Mario Roncaglia, an Italian art dealer, the newly married couple went to live and work in Umbria, Italy during the two year sabbatical. This period became a great catalyst in Barnes' life and though financially restrained, the artist felt liberated and able to explore all that his newly adopted country had to offer. Barnes and Morgan immersed themselves in the culture and language befriending the locals. While on their stay they were able to scrape up enough money and seized an opportunity to buy a country house in the Umbrian mountains, which was in sore need of restoration. While this occurred Barnes, through Roncaglia, exhibited in Rome, 1973, and Turin, 1974.

After returning to Bloomington, from Italy, Barnes and Morgan gave birth to a daughter on August 8, 1974.

Barnes resumed his American lifestyle; teaching at I.U. and exhibiting frequently with Frumkin. As often as possible, he returned with his family to Umbria in an effort to restore their house and rejoin his Italian friends during summers. Barnes' work, which had always portrayed themes of great literature, poetry and mysticism, now also reflected his experiences in Italy, and incorporated as an autobiographical metaphor the Italian adventures and writings of Byron, Shelley and Trelawney.

On January 1st 1979 Barnes' third daughter and fourth child was born in Bloomington, thus concluding the 70's decade.

During the 1980's, Barnes had now settled into a steady routine of painting, exhibiting, and teaching. He also found his family life, which by now had become stable, immensely rewarding.

Barnes, now in his early 50's, had become established in both the fields of painting and teaching. He enjoyed teaching and tried to pass along in his teaching style, the generosity and kindness he had experienced from Duchamp during his fledgling days as an artist in New York. His reputation as an "artists' artist" and professor brought many students to Indiana University, especially graduate students from many reputable painting schools.

In 1981, Barnes was awarded The Childe Hassam purchase prize from The American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 1982 he received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

New York, November 12th, 1985, began a year-long traveling retrospective of Barnes' works from 1956-1984. The exhibition opened on the east coast, found it's way through the Midwest and closed on October 1986 in Miami, Florida garnering much acclaim. As the exhibition wound down Barnes left on sabbatical to his home in Italy, for a year. The house was close to being completely restored, and now was habitable enough to bring his young family to stay through a winter.

He produced a series of watercolors for an exhibition in 1989, many of which reflected his experiences from his sabbatical in Umbria.The exhibition was shown in Chicago at what had now become the Struve Gallery, since Frumkin, who had sold the gallery to Bill Struve, was slowly retiring from the art market. After 19 solo exhibitions with Frumkin within a 25 year time period Barnes would no longer exhibit with Frumkin, thus ending their professional relationship.

Over the past 30 years of painting Barnes had become known for working on very large canvases, his 1992 "Sources of Power" exhibition and those to ensue would follow this preference. The "Sources of Power" exhibition would be Barnes' final with Struve Gallery, which went out of business.

Fortunately for Barnes with such a predominant reputation and whose exhibitions nearly always sold out, it was no trouble for him to associate himself with another Gallery in Chicago. Barnes continued thereafter exhibiting at the Sonya Zaks Gallery through the 90's with a succession of major exhibits, "Blood and Perfume" 1996, and a pastel exhibition titled "Robert Barnes, New Works", 1998. Also during this period Barnes received an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1993, and in 1995 he received the very high honor of being named Ruth Halls Professor of Fine Art, an Endowed Chair.

At the close of the decade Barnes had been with Indiana University for 35 years and his retirement was due, so in the spring of 1999 he taught his last semester. At the same time, he affiliated with another gallery and in April 2000 had a sold-out exhibition titled the "The Ogham".

Barnes and his wife Nancy Morgan, now married for 29 years, have only recently relocated from southern Indiana to the coast of Maine, where they have purchased a hundred and eighty year old sea captain's house.

Recently forming an alliance with a gallery in New York City, Barnes' future plans are to paint and exhibit, as always, between NYC and Chicago. While this is occurring from his new home in Maine he also seeks new adventures which are surely to be echoed, as all his life's experiences have been, in his work.
Note submitted by Darren Young:

The artist was born in Washington D.C. in 1936 and raised by his grandparents.
He lived on an Indian Reservation for a short time as a young man. He then moved to Chicago and was an amateur boxer for a short time.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

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About  Robert Myrrden Barnes

Born:  1934 - Washington, District Of Columbia
Known for:  large-scale abstract-figurative, genre