For Independent 2021, Kerry Schuss Gallery presents a series of painterly abstractions by Robert Barber (b. 1922, Minneapolis, MN). The Monsoon paintings, which date from 1963-64, were inspired by the rains that visit Barber's home in Tucson, AZ, each summer. This presentation will feature small-scale paintings that evoke atmospheric landscapes drenched by watery elements. In tension with the feeling of worldly space, Barber's vigorous, blocky gestures merge into dry yet sensuous surfaces of tempera paint. Colorful collages made of painted and torn paper also from 1963-64 will accompany the paintings. The legacy of Abstract Expressionism is evident in the paintings' gestural immediacy, while Cezanne's landscapes also come to mind, as do paintings from the 1960s by Philip Guston, who was Barber's teacher at the University of Minnesota. This presentation coincides with the artist's fourth solo exhibition at the gallery in Tribeca which will open on Friday, September 10th.
The works in this presentation are of a time when abstract painting could still be regarded as a radical gesture, particularly in the relative isolation of Tucson. Barber followed his own path in a small southwestern city in the Sonoran desert, where new art ideas and trends were barely known, much less appreciated. In that time, and over the next five decades, he has been a rare example of an artist producing advanced artwork far from any major art center or community.
Robert Barber received an undergraduate degree from the Minneapolis School of Art and an MFA from the University of Minnesota in 1952. He later taught at Illinois University of Wesleyan before moving to Tucson, Arizona in 1956. He has been producing art since his teens, yielding a vast array of work spanning nearly three-quarters of a century, and continues to paint and draw on a daily basis at the age of 99.
Outside of a few local Tucson exhibitions, Barber was virtually unknown until a 2015 full-scale retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson, co-curated by Anne-Marie Russell and Jocko Weyland. Kerry Schuss introduced the work of Robert Barber to an international audience at Independent Fair 2016 in New York. Most recently, in 2018, Robert Barber's work was included in the American Academy of Arts and Letters annual "Invitational" exhibition.