Art Historians of Southern California
BARBARA KERWIN’S LATEST PAINTINGS AT THE GEORGE BILLIS GALLERY
I have always said that if I had money, I would collect the paintings of Barbara Kerwin. Unfortunately, I don’t have money and I don’t have any of Kerwin’s stunning art. But I gaze
upon them longingly in galleries, or even more remotely on my occasional e-mail announcements of her latest show. I have seen some stunning works by Kerwin in a very large scale, while others would fid nicely in my living room. This new series, “Windows,” is similarly wide ranging, measuring from 65 x 70 to 30 x 30 inches and, like all of her mature works, continue her calm contemplation of a particular aspect of geometry: the square. When I first began following her work, Kerwin was working in wax, which was much more toxic than I had ever imagined. Kerwin has always been a minimalist. To an art historian, the visual roots of
these paintings are long and deep. Now she has left behind that labor-intensive mode of painting in oil in high-melt wax behind in favor of a visual contest with acrylic vying with oil paint. Water-based acrylic paint is lean and matte in finish, while oil paint is fat and shiny and juicy.
The result is—back to art history—a perceptual “push-pull” effect, like Hans Hofmann. But Hoffman used color, setting advancing color against receding color and causing visual vibrations. But Kerwin tends to eep her colors close. The range of contrasts within in each
work tends to be very narrow, and the surface action is kept at a subtle level with a restrained application. The possible pop of color is kept trapped within a confining cage of shapes. While Joseph Albers set square within square in order to pay homage to all the possible permutation of color relationships, Kerwin is less pedagogical and more playful. As a result her “squares”
are not sequential but interlocking and interfacing, nestling sharply one against another—fat
and thin, pushing for dominance. It takes an exceptionally intelligent painter to keep her many admirers enthrall year after year.
So smart. Bravo, Barbara, my friend.
The Art Historians of Southern California salute you.
Jeanne S. M. Willette
The Arts Blogger
July 6, 2012