Way of Marking Time
“Stella and Barré both reject illusionism and its implications of space deeper than the surface of the painting. Both also reject the seduction of the expressionist touch, advocating instead a neutral, workmanlike brush mark, at least through the ’70s for Stella. Finally, both organize the progression of their work in a series of series. For them, space is both painting’s primary subject and their primary subject, but they approach it from diametrically opposite angles, diverging on how to define the limits of “literal” space. Where Stella begins with the assumption that a painting is first and foremost an object, Barré assumes that a painting is first and foremost a conceptual and historical construct, a tableau….
Barré’s space, in contrast to Stella’s, develops on a plane parallel to the wall, where the thickness of a painting as an object does not come into play. The paintings are always presented on their traditional vertical/horizontal axis, never tilted at an angle or into a diamond shape, which would emphasize their objecthood. In Barré’s stubborn insistence on a quasi-traditional presentation, one can only infer that a very salient point is being made about the nature of painting. Barré is offering a clear resistance to objectification, a rejection of the support and a focus on the surface. This is where Barré’s approach departed emphatically from the Supports/Surfaces school of thought as well as American Minimalism, and why his lone wolf position was and still is so difficult to understand.” [Gwenaël Kerlidou on Martin Barre]
“Emptying the canvas space, the painter favors a provisional aesthetic, as his minimalist approach deviates from the fastidious allover method used by many of his contemporaries. In Barré’s own words, ‘What bumped up against the taste or style of the period was not so much this lack of thickness as the impression of emptiness, of nonwork.’ Seemingly menaced by inconsequence or collapse, his abstractions look remarkably simple, self-cancelling and offhand. Yet, while Barré’s art seems to masquerade as a preliminary study or an under-painting, their plain compositions animate their surfaces to create a finished piece that is anything but tentative.
In a 1974 interview, Barré stated: ‘What I was doing could well appear as antipainting, whereas what I wanted to show, through the traces or points of impact in a clear surface, was what a painting could be if disencumbered of object, color, and form.’ Never ceasing to engage with minimalist ideologies, his reinvention of the canvas’s surface has secured his place as a leading figure within the canon of art.” [Ariane Belisle on Martin Barré]
“Two years later, in “63-F-5” (1963), flocks of arrows extending inward from the canvas’s vertical edges point right, left, and down. I think it is telling that none of the arrows point upward. In all four groups of paintings in the exhibition, Barré is directing our attention beyond the canvas’s physical edges. I would say this is also true of the Zebrapaintings, such as “67-Z-21” (1967), in which some of the diagonally arranged sprayed lines, with their feathery edges, extend beyond the painting’s borders. It also seems as if the off-white ground has been applied with horizontal brushstrokes over a previous layer of vertical black marks. The layering is Barré’s way of marking time, which is another way he stands in opposition to the American idea of presence, timelessness, and taking in a work all at once.” [John Yau on Martin Barré]