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Will Barnet (1911-2012)

From Beverly, Massachusetts, Will Barnet became a leading 20th-century New York based artist, best known for figurative paintings enhanced by abstract arrangements and printmaking.  He was a key figure in the New York movement called Indian Space Painting, artists who based their abstract and semi-abstract work on Native American art.

Barnet studied at the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts from 1928 to 1930, and then at the Art Students League in New York, where he focused on printmaking. He taught briefly at Cornell, Yale, Cooper Union, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Museum School, Boston.  In 1934, he became the printer for the League, and from 1945 to 1980 was Instructor of Painting at the League.

Throughout his career he worked in both woodcuts, etching, and lithographs.  Barnet was quoted: "I wasn't so concerned with beautiful line, mass interested me more than line.  The hardest thing is to take line and make it into something that is contained." His woodcuts are starkly black and white, and the lithographs have a full range of tones.

Until 1939, his style was realistic, but he did many abstract paintings of social realist themes between 1940s and 1960, but they were much more controlled than those of many of his contemporary Abstract Expressionist peers.


In fact, many of his pieces were purely geometric, exploring the rectangle.  In the latter part of his career of over 80 years, he explored both abstraction and realism, with all of them carefully executed.

Robert Doty, art historian, called Barnet, "a master of the abstract statement. . .creating images of personal vision which rank with the best of their time."

Editor, "Will Barnet, Works of Six Decades" American Art Review, June-July 1994
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