Robert Barber - Freeway Paintings 1970-74
March 20 - April 24, 2016
Kerry Schuss introduced the work of Robert Barber at Independent New York 2016 earlier this month. This expanded gallery presentation will be his first New York solo exhibition. Inspired by highway underpasses and overpasses observed during a family trip to San Francisco, Barber began his series of "Freeway Paintings" in 1970. He used these banal, yet monumental constructions, as the basis for small-scaled geometric abstractions, incorporating bold colors in elemental, constructivist verticals, horizontals and diagonals. There are traces of realistic depiction from close observation and drawing of the then under-construction University of Arizona stadium. He further abstracted the subject matter into larger scale multi-panel canvases from 1973-74.
Barber says that he is "always looking for abstract shapes in representation." It was a natural step to try and reproduce the forms and shadows he saw in architectural infrastructure. The palette reflects "Arizona sunrise and sunsets along with subconsciously being influenced by Mexican and Native American art." Although Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly and Richard Diebenkorn were examples he looked to, this work really owes more to an appreciation of earlier modernists and the fundamental formations that act as underpinnings to their representational paintings. Barber cites Ralston Crawford, Edward Hopper, and Charles Sheeler as major influences, particularly in how they portrayed factories, barns, and quotidian buildings with a foundation of inherently basic planes and configurations.
Robert Barber was born in Minneapolis in 1922, and received an undergraduate degree from the Minneapolis School of Art and an MFA from the University of Minnesota, where he studied under Phillip Guston, amongst others. After getting his degrees, he taught at Illinois University of Wesleyan for three years before moving to Tucson, Arizona in 1956. He has been producing art since his teens, yielding a vast array of extraordinary work spanning nearly three-quarters of a century, and continues to paint and draw on a daily basis at the age of 93.
Outside of a few local Tucson exhibitions, Barber was virtually unknown until a 2015 full-scale retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson, co-curated by Anne-Marie Russell and Jocko Weyland. Anything but an outsider artist, his training has given him a deep, wide-ranging intellectual sophistication regarding art theory, history and practice. From casual sketches on paper to fully realized paintings a profoundly cosmopolitan sense of form and design is a constant throughout his work.