Theme/Style – Modernism, Surrealism, American Romantic paintings
Media – Oils
Artistic Focus – It took many years, but critics and the public eventually came to recognize what his fellow artists saw early on: Barnes was an accomplished artist, one who took a highly individualistic approach to his work. Often described as a painter who just wanted to paint, not to make a statement nor to gain fame, Barnes’s early canvases offered recognizable backgrounds and groups of people. In his later works the background became infinity, and his people a single man who seemed overwhelmed by his surroundings. There is no superficiality in his work – rather, it offers a simple, yet strong, emotional effect; a polished, jade-like surface that glows with its own inner light; and a nocturnal, fantastic and improvisational mood.
Career Highlights –
- Born in 1880 in Kilmarnock, Scotland, Matthew Barnes came to the United States in 1904, and spent two years in New York City working as an ornamental plasterer.
- When he heard that San Francisco needed skilled laborers after the devastating 1906 Earthquake and Fire, Barnes headed west that same year, and remained in the Bay Area the rest of his life.
- While working a construction job, Barnes happened upon an artist at work – and decided that he wanted to paint. He bought supplies and canvases, and began learning.
- Although Barnes had already established himself as an artist by the time he met Diego Rivera, he assisted the famed muralist in 1931 and 1932, working as a plasterer on several of the artist’s projects, and learning from the master in the process.
- Completely self-taught, Barnes painted for 25 years before selling a canvas, creating some 200 paintings during the last 35 years of his life.
- Matthew Barnes passed away in San Francisco in 1951.
Bibliographic references are available upon request.