Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fort Point Inspirations: Jess Barnett

When asked about inspirations, Boston artist Jess Barnett leads with color. “The contrast of red and purple gives me chills,” she says. “There’s something about two opposing colors that gives me goose bumps – there’s such a show of strength and force there. It’s really making a statement.”

The artist, whose work benefits from this focus on the essential elements of art, has exhibited all over Boston and Cambridge including shows at The Lilypad in Inman Square, Achilles, Cambridge Common, the SoWa and Beacon Hill Art Walks, the FPAC Gallery, Art at 12, The Lincoln Art Project in Waltham, and the Larkin Gallery in Provincetown. A member of FPAC for over two years, she has participated in several Boston-area art festivals over the years as well. A fixture on the local scene, her work continues to explore its roots in abstraction and the primary relationships between rich colors, line, and space.

Untitled Gouache Sketches, 22” x 28” 2012.

“I used to refer to myself as an abstract expressionist, but now just say I make abstract art, mainly with acrylics,” Barnett says of her current work. Painting since 2004, she has recently been working with watercolors and gouache. Part of her overall process includes this drive toward new and unexplored territory, a continual challenge to break new ground with medium, approach, and experimentation.

“I also occasionally use other media in my work,” she says, “such as rose petals, cotton, words cut from books, lipstick, and other things. I like playing with texture sometimes.” But the essential interplay between colors remains a foundation stone in her work.

Benjamin Moore Paint Sample, and HP Lovecraft book cover, circa 1970

“Sometimes a specific color combination will get stuck in my head, and I’ll have to use it in order to get tired of it and be able to move on,” she says. “Red and teal had a hold on me for quite a while.”

Beyond Barnet’s fascination with the primal essence of colors, the intersection of art and literature holds special importance at the center of her art. Citing H.P. Lovecraft, a writer Stephen King referred to as “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale,” as one of her major influences, she “fell in love with Lovecraft from the first time I read him.”

She says, “I prefer to think there is a whole other world out there hiding under the back hills of New Hampshire.”

Jess Barnett, Impact, 28” x 44”, acrylic, 2009, and Have a Seat, 24” x 36”, acrylic, 2011

The idea of a hyper-reality mangled and accentuated by fantasy and grief extends from the passion of rich colors and into literature as a sort of back story for her paintings. Barnett’s work is a combination of these elements, an expressionist style grounded in an alternate reality.

Literature also features prominently in Barnett’s interaction with the Boston arts community, and beyond. As co-editor of Printer’s Devil Review, or PDR, she heads up the arts section with photographer  Joshi Radin. The two work closely with the literature editors and the main editor, and their third issue is due out in April.  

And while Barnett’s work responds to the work of others, varying mediums, and alternate visions of reality—as populated by writers and members of the art community at-large—her painting remains intensely personal and grounded in emotion.

“When I am heartsick, angry, or excited,” she says, “I make my best art.”
“I’m more inspired,” Barnett explains, “at those times, than any other.”

- Kurt Cole Eidsvig

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