In this painting by contemporary artist Elizabeth Barnes, crisp lines delineate a colour field of greens and blues. The title, Thekla, refers to the name of one of 55 imaginary cities in the book Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. The descriptions of these cities are often read as parables or meditations on culture, time, memory, and place. This painting is a sensory exploration of the urban environment that is made through experimental applications to Barnes’ artistic process. Through abstraction and colour fields, Thekla crafts a poetic and phenomenological portrait of urban space.
Barnes says, “this painting is part of a series of work titled “Invisible Cities.” The title comes from Italo Calvino’s book of the same name, in which one comes to understand that Calvino is travelling the path of imagination while talking about cities not constructed by glass, cement, and steel, but by ideas.”
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.
Her work 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.