WILL BARNET was born on May 25, 1911 in Beverly, Massachusetts. He studied painting and printmaking at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts between 1927 and 1930. Barnet maintained that he was radicalized at 19, when he began roaming Boston, sketching the faces of the downtrodden while renting a room for $1 a night. Barnet saw the portrait painter and muralist John Singer Sargent working on the murals of the Boston Public Library and was highly inspired by his work. In 1934, Barnet became the official printer for the Arts Students League, New York. There, he printed for the Mexican Muralist, Jose Clemente Orozco (1883–1949). Barnet taught Abstract and Figurative Painting and Drawing at the Cooper Union, Yale University, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He influenced a generation of artists, including James Rosenquist, Mark Rothko, Knox Martin, Paul Jenkins and Cy Twombly. Barnet was awarded a National Medal of Arts in 2011, which was presented by President Obama at a White House ceremony.
Barnet was known as a creative chameleon, exploring a cornucopia of modes of artistic expression throughout his lifetime. He produced an array of paintings, watercolors, drawings, and prints, portraying human figures and animals in daily life and fantastical scenarios.
In the 1930’s, Barnet was highly effected by the struggles of the American everyman during the great depression and began his career as a Social Realist printmaker. In the 1930’s he was inspired by the rough rhythm of urban life. He captured harried scenes of cafeterias and fish markets through his lithographs and sketches.
Barnet was a leader of the Indian Space Painting movement in New York. This movement featured geometrically complex abstract works of art. They derived their inspiration from both Native American art and European traditional painting. They were praised for their bold shapes, vivid colour and dynamic compositions
In the 1960s Barnet altered his printing and painting practice to produce scenes of Realism which were full of symbolism. These works showed skilled linework and subtle colouration.
In the 1970s Barnet began painting scenes of a highly personal nature. He rendered casual images of his wife, children, and family pets. These portrayals of domestic life were both incredibly intimate and universal. The elegance of figures painted on flat backgrounds displayed a deep understanding of the language of abstraction. They were generally painted in mid range tones. Early paintings of this nature were brooding and edgy, while the paintings he produced later tended to be cheerful and pretty.
Barnet had more than 80 solo exhibitions during his life, and his work sits in the collections of most of the major American museums. He died at his home in Manhattan at the age of 101.
Will Barnet : Barnet Blue Bicycle, 1979, screenprint, 26.4×25 5in, 67 x 64.7cm