In this work titled Summer in the City by contemporary artist Elizabeth Barnes, urban space is flattened into a modernist grid of colour fields as a way of de-marking space and delineating networks and connections. Soft pastel colours are integrated with overlapping darker forms across a rhythmic composition and ultimately resulting in the depiction of a harmonious urban environment. Barnes creates her abstract works through a process of layering and juxtaposing colours and forms. As such, this contemporary painting revises old narratives about what painting is, what it represents, and its role in contemporary life.
As Barnes states, “Much of my work evolves through a practice of walking. I am a psychogeographer. Psychogeography, a term combining psychology and geography, generally refers to the influence of the geographical environment on one’s mind or behavior. I am a flâneuse. This takes the 19th century term flâneur, originally used to describe a man of leisure strolling the streets of Paris, and updates it for me to specifically define a contemporary feminist identity. Walking and sensing the environment is field study for my studio work. Sensations of constructed space, whether formed by natural forces or built by human endeavour, reveal patterns and interconnections defining place and buried histories.”
My work is realized through the persistence of painting and its ability to embrace paradox. I came of age in the waning days of hippies and the Viet Nam War. I have witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of global capitalism. I have lived in two countries and traveled physically and psychically to many more. I have faced and survived a life threatening illness. I remember the quaint sci-fi visions of a future that has already happened. I have found solace in the natural world and now watch it dying. All of these experiences are embedded in the work.
Contemporary artist Elizabeth Barnes’ abstract works investigate the relationship of painting to history, culture, and technology through experimentations with space, materiality, process and colour. Central to this is a visual exploration of painting itself, its unpredictable nature, and processes of experimentation and layering. Her paintings operate on a duality between the concealing and revealing of a sense of place into the flattened space of a modernist grid.The modernist grid has been a core component of 20th century painting, where artists used it as a representational device to explore the shifting networks created between paintings and their viewers. Central to Barnes’ meditations on the modernist grid is art critic David Joselit’s contention that painting embodies dislocation.
Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Barnes came of age in the waning days of hippies and the Vietnam War. Her works explore not only contemporary history, but her personal experiences.
Barnes graduated from the Tyler School of Art in 1990 with a BFA in Painting, and in 1993 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with an MFA in Studio Arts. Alongside her artistic practice, Barnes has spent her artistic career teaching. She has taught at the University of North Carolina, Portland State University, Portland Community College, University of the Fraser Valley, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
Elizabeth Barnes has been shown in exhibitions across North America, including a solo show at the Candine Gallery in Vancouver in 2022. Her work has also been in exhibitions across Canada, such as Arbutus Gallery in Surrey, the Herringer Kiss Gallery in Calgary, Pendulum Modern Art in Vancouver and View Modern Art in Victoria. Her international exhibitions include Portland State University and the Studio 333 Artist Collective in Oregon and the Mary Tomas Gallery in Dallas, Texas.
Barnes’ work is held in the private and public collections including the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, the Cenovus Collection, the Encana Collection, the University of Arizona, and Portland Community College.
Elizabeth Barnes lives and works in Vancouver, BC.