Drawing on history and culture, Barnaby Furnas creates restless, radiant paintings chronicling crescendos of excitement – religious, political, sexual – as they career towards tipping points of deliriously uncertain outcome. The active moment versus painting's innate stillness has been a central tenet of paintings whose subjects include the Creation myth, Civil War-era battles and high-octane stadium rock gigs. His are at once brutal and elegant works, bound up with the excesses of the world yet brought into being through the prism of art history. From Cubism's fracturing of the picture plane, through Futurism's attempts to capture movement, via 'blood and guts' outpourings of Abstract Expressionist and the transcendental spaces of colour field painting, Furnas entwines history with art history in provocative combinations of narrative and form.Read More
Process is essential to Furnas' compositions, with content following form as the artist endeavours to make paintings that are analogous in their construction to how they function in the world. Pitched between depicted action and the act of painting, paint's illusory potential and its materiality, Furnas's work always imparts a visceral hit while drawing attention to its own manufacture. In his rock concert paintings, for example, impeccably crafted confusions of foreground and background, or picture planes traversed by lattices of stage light beams snag the eye, creating a pictorial equivalent of the heady confusion of the arena. In other works filigrees of painted bullet holes seem to pepper the surface, their Rorschach-like arrangements intimating a frenzied psychological dimension in tandem with the depicted scene. Furnas’ Flood paintings, such as Red Sea Parting, 2006, and Last Day (Red to Black in 6 Parts), 2013, raise the stakes on colour field painting, rendering it overwhelming, apocalyptic. "A painting is interesting to me to the degree that I can integrate myself in its making,” Furnas says. "The paintings are at their most engaging when they are making themselves."
In his Creation series, for example, Furnas' technique integrates wholly with concept, as his method of pouring paint along a grooved surface on the canvas introduces gravity into the work in a physical and literal sense, while the imagery depicts the sequence of events leading to the Fall of Man. What these paintings share are intimations of heightened emotion and suggestions of altered states - where in ecstasy and agony, the hallowed and the hellish are revealed to be the nearest of neighbours.
Born in Philadelphia in 1973, Barnaby Furnas lives and works in New York. The artist received a Master's Degree in Fine Arts from Columbia University in 2000, and has staged numerous solo presentations at institutional venues including The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, Missouri, 2015; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, 2012 and 2007; Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, Colorado, 2009–2010, and Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Newcastle, 2005. His work has recently been displayed at exhibitions including Civil War Contemporary Remix, Alexandria Museum of Art, Louisiana, 2014; Surveyor, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New York, 2011; Inside the Painter's Studio, Stephen D. Paine Gallery, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, 2011; Contemporary Magic: A Tarot Deck Art Project, The National Arts Club, New York, 2010, travelling to the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, 2011; Roundtrip: Beijing-New York Now, The Ullens Center (UCCA), Beijing, 2010; Something About Mary, The Metropolitan Opera, New York, 2009–2010; The Old, Weird America, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 2008, travelling to DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Massachusetts and Frye Art Museum, Seattle; The Fractured Figure, Deste Foundation, Athens, 2007–2008; Dream and Trauma: Works from the Dakis Joannou Collection, Kunsthalle Wien and Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna, 2007; and Between Two Deaths, Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe, Germany, 2007.
Text courtesy Victoria Miro.
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In 2004, when I was walking around the Barnaby Furnas show Works on Paper, taking notes for the short review I would write for TimeOut, I had the vague notion that I should really be talking to the artist. Since then, the world has been remade in pixels—Wikipedia knows all, and we are creatures of the clouds—and Furnas's epic...