Will Barnet

(b. 1911)

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(1911– ).

Painter and printmaker. Although best known for formally refined and slightly enigmatic figural work of recent decades, in the middle years of the twentieth century he pursued abstraction. A devoted printmaker, with technical expertise encompassing lithography, woodcut, and intaglio, Barnet has treated printmaking as a serious undertaking in its own right, not as a sideline to painting. Born in Beverly, on the northern Massachusetts coast, he studied with Philip Leslie Hale at Boston's School of the Museum of Fine Arts before moving permanently to New York in 1930. There he continued his training at the Art Students League and became the league's professional lithographer. He also taught there and elsewhere for more than two decades, inspiring many students with his wide knowledge of modern and traditional art history as well as studio practice. During the 1930s, his subjects reflected prevailing interests in the social realism of the American Scene movement, with particular attention to the children and families that have remained a focus of his representational imagery. He worked primarily in lithography during these years, but in the late 1930s began to make woodcuts. In these, sharper value contrasts, flatter space, and rougher shapes suggest attention to German expressionist precedents. In the 1940s and 1950s, he made few prints as he turned to abstract paintings featuring flat, stylized forms inspired by Northwest Coast and Southwestern Indian art. Bolstered by his enthusiastic and scholarly advocacy for American tribal art, these works figured centrally in the brief flowering of Indian Space painting. In 1954 he joined the American Abstract Artists, an organization steeped in the cubism and constructivism that also informed his abstraction. Around the same time, he began spending summers in Maine, the setting for many later paintings. In the early 1960s, as he began to reengage figuration by way of portraiture, his abstract work culminated in relatively large, luminously colored, spare compositions. Since the late 1960s, Barnet has concentrated on stately figurative work combining deliberate composition, patterned form, and shallow space with subtly modulated color. Frequently centering on domestic imagery but also comprising allegorical interests, his subjects project a mood of calm and meditative aloofness. Piero della Francesca, Milton Avery, Alex Katz, and Japanese prints variously come to mind.

Subjects: Art.

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