The Stephen F. Austin State University College of Fine Arts and School of Art will present an exhibition of the works of Vera Barnett March 30 through May 6 in Griffith Gallery on the SFA campus and in The Cole Art Center @ The Old Opera House in downtown Nacogdoches.
The exhibition will feature oil paintings and vinyl, including plastic models used to make her paintings, according to John Handley, director of galleries at SFA, who first saw Barnett’s work while he was visiting Valley House Sculpture Garden and Gallery in Dallas.
“I found her work unique, curious, humorous, and honoring an awareness of art history unlike any I had seen before,” he said. “As with many artists over the years, Barnett is very aware of the history of art – of the great master painters who have lived and worked and to which all contemporary artists owe a debt.
Barnett draws upon earlier artists – Hieronymus Bosch, Masaccio and Grant Wood – bringing them into the 21st century with her own unique and personal interpretation, Handley said.
Barnett explains that she is drawn to images that can represent dual interpretations and reactions. “Plastic has the qualities of a false self of perfection; smooth, flawless and with the illusion of permanence,” she said. “This is juxtaposed against the reality of wrinkles and vulnerability.”
In the 2010 exhibition catalogue of Barnett’s work, the artist wrote: “I have been working for several years on a group of oil paintings that explore classical themes in art. I am drawn to art that explores the emotional relationships between people, their environment and circumstances that they find themselves in. I wish to reconstruct these ideas through my own vision, my life experiences. These ‘classic’ themes are chosen because they are timeless in nature, explore emotions that are universal and cross boundaries of time and distance. I reinterpret these themes using plastic ‘inflatable’ people.”
Art historian Frederick Turner describes Barnett’s figures as “full of human feeling.”
“Their faces are so expressive, so full of trepidation, resignation, bemused happiness, anxiety, affection, woe,” he said. “The eyes are especially striking, with their innocent and meditative gaze, almost never directly out of the picture into the viewer’s eyes, but always inward into the drama of the scene itself or into their own thoughts.”
The artist’s reception on April 21 will depart from the usual format, Handley said. Barnett will speak at the Griffith Gallery, where the majority of the pieces will show, at 5 p.m., followed by a wine and cheese reception at 6 p.m. in Cole Art Center, where Barnett’s work will also be exhibited.
The exhibition is sponsored in part by Nacogdoches Junior Forum, SFA Friends of the Visual Arts and Texas Commission on the Arts. Admission is free.