Other Voices: Robert Baribeau

In the countryside north of NYC Robert Baribeau has been feverishly at work on a thirty-year exploration of the impact of landscape and place on abstraction. He is the measure of what he purveys and so his canvases and paintings on paper are simple declarations or essays on the way in which all aspects of nature can be construed through color, form and texture.  While for some painters nature is translated in terms of representation or naturalism, Baribeau measures landscape through the dynamics of color and texture.

Robert Baribeau | Field Series, Untiled 466, 2003, mixed media on paper mounted on canvas, 51 1/2 x 73 inches
Courtesy Allan Stone Gallery, New York

Of course Baribeau’s landscapes are seen through the temperament and eye of a home grown abstract painter, someone whose roots are among the mystical painters of the Northwest of the 50s-he is from Aberdeen WA after all and the later stages of the New York School of the 60s. His paintings are a synthesis of sources perhaps influenced by the early Ab Ex works of Grace Hartigan, who also recorded the impression of places through striking colors on large canvases or the later abstract distillations of Joan Mitchell whose eye and palette were attuned to her years in France and working near Monet's garden in Giverny.

Transplanted to the lower Hudson River Valley he is certainly not revitalizing the 19th century school of painting but though recognizing the sublime power inherent in nature and therefore finding pictorial equivalents of color and sign to match its wonder and chaos. - Read more by Michael Klein, NAP Contributor, after the jump.

Robert Baribeau | Field Series, Untitled 534, 2004, mixed media on paper, 60 x 44 inches
Courtesy Allan Stone Gallery, New York

Baribeau’s latest paintings make me think of the late Twombly—bright, raw yet accomplished. What if Twombly had stayed in the US; what would his paintings looked like and the subject matter been about? Would the banks of the Hudson River been as impressive as the sea at Sperlonga?  Would Twombly embrace the literary myths of Washington Irving and James Fennimore Cooper?  Without using words Baribeau certainly has invoked those writers’ legends in the torrents of paint he shrouds a verdant landscape.

Robert Baribeau | Millbrook Series #17, 2012 mixed media on canvas, 24 x 30 inches
Courtesy of the artist

Baribeau too is primed for intense colors, an ever-changing spectrum of vibrant hues that distinguish these paintings; colors like nature explode. He is not trumped by the seasons instead each season translates into its own palette. Night, day, winter, spring, find their way onto canvases though everything in Baribeaus world remains strikingly untitled. This sense of season and locale certainly characterizes his Field Series where the land is presented as bands of horizontal stripes of color and paint, earmarked by scrawled symbols of trees and flowers. Interwoven within the paint are bits of collage: he uses cloth, wallpaper, maps, all tactile visual reminders of place.  These are kinds of topological maps of the terrain mixed with the effects of weather, the absolute pure white of the first snowstorm of the season, or the orange reds of sunsets in the fall.

Similarly the next body of works his Millbrook Series, a series begun in 2010 is built on the same ideas but now the paint and painting is frenetic thick pushed into place as if to make room for everything at once.  Nature is not just copied she seems to works in tandem with the artist scrapping across the canvas like a storm leaving behind marks, slashes, and great clots of paint. It’s as if Hofmann’s dictate, his push and pull theory came to life through separate runs of paint. The ensuing pictures are built. They are formed and therefore have a kind of nucleus in the foreground-tree, lake, hill-which is then balanced against a background of series of hues layered as flat bands of thick color. The emphasis again placed on reproducing in a totally abstract language the character of this location in the woods; translating wind, rain, light, cold and heat into spirited, energetic and  seemingly random patterns of molten color.

Robert Baribeau | Millbrook Series #26, 2012, mixed media on canvas, 30 x 30 inches
Courtesy of the artist

Maybe it’s the freshness of his work that I find so attractive or the un-belabored direct approach that allows him spontaneity, improvisation and the bravura that he manages on several scales of work at once: medium size canvases side by side large scale works. Perhaps it’s his lack of cynicism that is also so refreshing; pictures that are honest and positive and devoid of bad news. Here he bears a kinship to his contemporaries, for example the painters Joan Snyder and Dona Nelson. Like them he explores the surface of the canvas by adding extraneous materials to build a greater visual impact, thereby enhancing the physical depth and personal expression of each work.

Lack of exposure has not deterred his passion or activity. (His last solo show was with the Allan Stone Gallery in 2008) Nonetheless, His day begins and ends in the studio.  Like Francis Bacon, Baribeau is a devil in the studio. His workspace is jammed, stockpiled with clutter and debris; canvases piled high some finished others under construction. Yet it is this kind of laboratory out of which his many experiments are born. Like all painters their storyline is important to their history and to their development as a painter. Baribeau seems to have come to a turning point in his evolution as a painter in the last few years, a solidification of purpose; cohesion of ideas. He seems to be coming of out of a shell, a period of self imposed isolation, into a new world very much of his own making and painted by  his own design.

Millbrook Series #22, 2012, mixed media on canvas, 30 x 40 inches
Courtesy of the artist


Michael Klein is a private dealer and independent curator for individuals, institutions and arts organizations. 


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