The works in Bounty represent Chris Barnard’s ongoing, thoughtful examination of landscape painting and the contemporary and historical socio-political events that continue to shape and transform the land. Exploring connections and gaps between land, invasion, history, the human body, and health, Bounty addresses the relationship between romantic representations of the American landscape and the ideologies that have long fueled aggression, exploitation, and violence upon its soil and its inhabitants.
Often characterized by wide vistas, dramatic light, and stunning terrain, the works of 19th century landscape painters like Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Edwin Church depict the landscape of the continental United States as grand, transcendent, and even sublime. Painted from and for a European-American point of view, those luminist works reflect and project a colonial gaze, one that promotes the abundance and promise of the American West and celebrates the ideology of Manifest Destiny.
Today, those same works can also be considered within the history of exploitation that has long characterized this land—the deception, displacement and crimes against its indigenous inhabitants; the appropriation, monopoly, and misuse of lands and natural resources; and the environmental damage and destruction wrecked upon it by the military-industrial complex in the name of progress and development. Therefore, even as Barnard is drawn to those beautiful, iconic paintings, he is also troubled by them—the darkness in their light, the horror in their splendor.
The paintings in Bounty explore these contradictions, engaging questions of light and dark, truth and fiction, substance and surface, myth and reality. To address these concerns, Barnard evokes the expansive and reverential atmosphere of romantic landscape painting, upon which he incorporates various levels of representation: abstract mark-making, saturated colors, and thick, dried paint scrapings. The paintings’ surface’s function as living, physical bodies capable of manifesting the degradation and struggle that the landscape itself has been witness to. Through this manipulation of formal and conceptual tropes—among and between imagery, materials, intents, and processes—viewers are left to ponder and to question the works’ deeper meaning.