Greg McGee is Art Advisor for international poetry magazine Dream Catcher
ISSUE 42: RICHARD BARNES
As all landscape painters, collectors of landscape paintings, and curators of landscapes will happily confide, the act of observing, composing, and applying paint to a canvas is a scientific endeavour. The consideration after the observation is generally aesthetic and involves composition and as yet to be rendered marks; the hypothesis - can your paint brush impart the undulating reality of what you see? - is set against not only the landscape in front of you but against 650 years of artistic evolution of a genre that continues to dominate culturally and commercially today; and the prediction and testing of the prediction is the unveiling for public consumption in art galleries. Sales and critical acclaim denote vindication. To paraphrase John Constable, Landscape Painting should be considered a branch of natural philosophy, of which paintings are the experiments. The success of the experiments can be measured in units sold and praise from experts.
And yet, rather than second guess an established canon and the industrial concerns that come with it, York based painter Richard Barnes has built an increasingly successful career on seemingly striving to skewer his own artistic vision, and he has used the North York Moors as inspiration. Not for him the autumnal palette of his painting forebears, nor the gently swelling horizons of Constable or Gainsborough. There are aspects of Van Gogh, to be sure, but even these are subordinated to a joyously idiosyncratic execution, where pastoral greens quickly glow to melbas and succulent lemon yellows. Under Barnes' brush, the colours of the North are transformed and the moors bulge and are galvanised.
This isn't to say that Barnes eschews the back catalogue of God's Own County. He obviously reveres what he sees. It's just he puts as much store into how he sees it, and therein lies the idiosyncrasy of Contemporary Painting. There is a doubleness at play, with rendition and interpretation as a double pronged approach. These are still faithful depictions of the world Barnes finds on a 20 minute drive from his York studio - still the glowering reality of the rough hewn heft of Yorkshire, and still suggestion of the stomping ground of literary spirits such Cathy and Heathcliff. It's just that this time they might wear platform boots and a little glitter.
Ultimately, Barnes seems to see the experimental endeavour of painting the North as an unmissable opportunity to imbue what has been hitherto portrayed as a place of peat, doomed romance, and ancient calendar customs with a little 2020's optimism for new light. The transformative power of Art, whether it's TV, painting, or poetry, has had a successful run in this the first year of a new decade. Whether that's because of the vision of the Artist, or the increasingly vocal demands of the viewer, or a fusion or both, is a question for another day.
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