Robert Barber

Concurrent with Mark Barrow and Sarah Parke’s exhibition Future Homemakers of America, JDJ presents a work by American artist Robert Barber in the cottage. Like Barrow and Parke, Barber is adept at finding abstraction in the representational world, and at 97 years old, he continues to do so in his daily art practice.

The work on view is part of his series of “Freeway Paintings” from the early 1970s, inspired by highway underpasses and overpasses observed during a road trip to San Francisco with his family. He used these banal yet monumental constructions as the basis for a series of geometric abstractions. The multi-panel canvas constructions incorporate bold colors in elemental, constructivist verticals, horizontals and diagonals that evoke the forms and shadows he found in the highway infrastructure. As Barber described, the color palette reflects “Arizona sunrise and sunsets along with subconsciously being influenced by Mexican and Native American art.”

Although Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly and Richard Diebenkorn were examples he looked to, this work really owes more to an appreciation of earlier modernists and the fundamental formations that act as underpinnings to their representational paintings. Barber cites Ralston Crawford, Edward Hopper, and Charles Sheeler as major influences, particularly in how they portrayed factories, barns, and quotidian buildings with a foundation of inherently basic planes and configurations.

Robert Barber was born in Minneapolis in 1922, and received an undergraduate degree from the Minneapolis School of Art and an MFA from the University of Minnesota, where he studied under Phillip Guston, amongst others. After getting his degrees, he taught at Illinois University of Wesleyan for three years before moving to Tucson, Arizona in 1956. He has been producing art since his teens, yielding a vast array of extraordinary work spanning nearly three-quarters of a century, and continues to paint and draw on a daily basis. This exhibition is presented in conjunction with Kerry Schuss, New York.

Robert Barber
Untitled (Freeway Series), 1973-74
Acrylic on four conjoined canvases
48 ½ × 64 inches