Press Release from White Tide
Chris Barnard's work proposes a radical repositioning of contemporary abstraction, in which painting's progress is linked to conceptions of moral progress. Over the course of his career, Barnard has grappled with the politics of landscape painting, creating works that address social conflict through the aesthetic collision of color, texture, and form.
Barnard's work examines the relationship between romantic representations of the American landscape and the ideologies that have long fueled racial inequalities, environmental degradation, state-sanctioned violence, as well as a willingness to wage war, calling into question the role of painting in the face of concrete social and ecological crisis.
Working seamlessly between abstraction and representation, he has sought to evoke, interrogate, and undermine the traditions of romantic landscape painting; to reexamine the ideals that these canonized images serve to promote, obscure, or conceal.
In his newest body of work, Barnard moves further into abstraction, foregrounding the dynamics of gesture, texture, and color -- the color white in particular, especially its interaction with others. This has meant a broadening of his palette and an exploration of color dynamics, as well as a reckoning with Whiteness. These paintings then reflect at once a reverence for the power of the painted image and an admission of painting's historical complicity with hegemonic power.
In Deepwater Horizon, a tiny white swirl ascends from the deep blue at the bottom center of the painting suggesting an oil spill rising to the surface. This pivotal composition suggests looking down into the water from above, the surface of the painting becoming the surface of the water, the trickle of white bubbling up carrying with it multi-color paint scraps, resulting in a thick layer of white paint resting on the water's/painting's surface.
In the exhibition's namesake painting, White Tide, white is "a rising tide, coming in waves, unending", overtaking and destroying its own environment. Barnard employs white paint as a compositional parasite, able to alter, subsume, and even destroy all that it touches. Exploring the vibrancy of more gestural, intuitive painting in Invasive Species, thick white paint seeps into the cracks between bright colors, insipidly dominating the canvas.
The forms and density of a natural forest were the inspiration for Bad Seed and What Could Have Been. In Bad Seed, the white, perspectival lines suggest an invasive, imperial presence with spikey strokes shooting upwards from the nodes of the implied grid; What Could Have Been offers a very vibrant and active composition, incorporating every color that Barnard could possibly include while remaining in sync with each other -- with white present only in minute spots or present only as a contributor to other colors.
Through these and other works in the exhibition, Barnard confronts ideas of surface and substance, drawing the language of abstract painting provocatively into conversation with contemporary social issues.