The Midwest, motorcycles, cowboy boots, blue jeans, football—imagery associated with classic Americana—kicks, charges, rodeos and bedazzles its way through Grant Barnhart’s works. Bipolar homages/parodies on the goold old stuff that makes up our national iconography and ideaology, Barnhart’s works are a feast of star spangled satire and sincere adoration. Read the full interview after the jump.
Can you talk about your creative process of creating these works?
I collect images and source material that are compiled and arranged to interact with one another. I then draw composite sketches of the painting, adding and subtracting images until it all begins to click. The scribbles and sketches are formulated on paper but a more refined composition surfaces in my head. Usually while I am working on one particular painting the inspiration for two or three future works begin to take shape, becoming part of a larger conversation. I write ideas and blurbs on my studio walls, books, any loose paper I have on hand. I definitely maintain a certain unedited stream of consciousness throughout the process.
The Midwest, motorcycles, cowboy boots, blue jeans, the rodeo—imagery associated with classic Americana—seem to abound throughout your works. What’s your gravitation towards this particular visual vernacular? What do these ideas mean to you as an individual, but also within the context of your work?
Growing up in Kansas I tried to fight this imagery. I dismissed and rejected the archetypal lifestyle at all costs. As an adult I’ve come to embrace this iconic cultural persona. Clearly I suffer from “you can take the boy out of Kansas, but not the Kansas out of the boy” syndrome. I utilize this cultural mythology and associations to highlight of our country’s adolescence. I want to create works that linger between irony and truth, alternating between exaggeration and realism. When the works succeed they create a facet of dimensionality. Humor, violence, sex, honesty, weakness, celebration and strength confront the viewer allowing the audience to interpret their own relationship to the American experience.
Many of your characters are archetypical heroes and legends of American psychE—the star quarterback, the trophy wife, the cowboy—what do you think about the American dream, or our self-constructed mythology?
It is easy to limit the “American Dream” to white picket fences, marriage, starting a family and succeeding against all odds, a very utopian perspective. The “American Dream” is embedded in our psyche like sand is to the desert, whether or not we subscribe to it. Following WWII America represented a cultural morality and heroism that garnered admiration the world over. Since then our government and entertainment industry have attempted to package and export this idealized identity to the point of parody, resulting in a sort of cultural pessimism, both domestically and abroad. Much along the lines of David Mamet’s thinking I aspire for my characters to represent a sort of cultural redemption.
Do you believe in the ideology of the American west?
The American West is one of emotional turmoil and ambiguity that inspires me to create that visual narrative. Douglas R. Nickel, modern art philosopher, poetically states, “The West is not so much a physical place as a series of abstractions, of overlapping and occasionally conflicting rhetorical constructions.”
I believe that the American West earned a reputation of resilience and stoicism. I attempt to reconcile its historical perception and its current state, and how the two overlap. More than anything I am intrigued and entertained by the ideology and mythology of the American West, its contradictions and truths. I want my works to vacillate between homage and satire.
Similarly, at times war enters into the picture—what do you think America’s relationship to violence is within your painted realms? What do you think it reflects about us as a nation?
Violence is engrained in our culture. Gunpowder is used during times of war, celebration and peace. Violence is sold as a commodity to all ages. As a culture we tend to suppress explicit sexual content in essence making sex more about power and submission. The exportation of these values projects a conflicted message to the world, violence is okay but sex is suspect. I touch upon the encoded nature of celebrating a fierce tackle during a football game and watching fireworks in the sky on a humid summer night.
You often use a drippy, washed out paint sensibility within your works—can you talk about how you make these works and your paint technique?
Using a frisket masking film allows me to isolate portions of the work. Abstractions and textures form within smaller shapes that appear and develop within the painting. Many of the drips and transparent marks are created with a spray bottle and heat gun to dry the paint quickly to capture a particular shape, texture and length of a paint drip. The process can be more controlled and intentional than it appears.
In your installations you also include some sculptural works—how do you think these interact with your painted works?
The sculptures reference and extend the environments in the paintings. The sculptures directly inform the content of the paintings and vice versa.
Who are some of your favorite artists, and what do you admire about their work?
I admire Rauschenberg, Twombly, Rusha, and Gerhard Richter for their limitless passion, their willingness to experiment, and their embrace of abstraction.
What other projects are you currently working on?
Currently I am working on a series of experimental ceramic sculptures to further illustrate my narrative. This April my work will appear in a three-person show with Ricky Allman and Niall McClelland in Denver CO at the David B Smith Gallery, and I will be included in a group exhibit at Baer Ridgway Exhibitions in San Francisco. I am also in creative dialog with the brilliant team at Ambach & Rice Gallery.
For more info, visit: Grant Barnhart