Figure to Field: The Art of Jacqueline Barnett is a crucial addition to the literature of modernism in America and the Pacific Northwest. Jacqueline Barnett (b. 1934) was born in New York in the middle of the New York School phenomenom and lived there through the 1940’s and 1950’s when she absorbed the spontaneous precepts of Abstract Expressionism and the riches of the city’s art museums. With its preface by Peter Selz, this important book by Matthew Kangas places Barnett in the context of West Coast art, first in the San Francisco Bay Area, and then in Seattle, where she settled in 1988.
Developing as an artist in Palo Alto, California, concurrently with the rise of feminism in the Bay Area, Barnett transfused feminist intentions–gender, anatomy, familial dyads–into lush abstract paintings and monotypes of great verve and chromatic indulgence. Often buried deeply, these themes are ably tracked and analyzed by Kangas, who places them in their context in the art history of the United States on both the East and West Coasts, while discussing the artist’s major influences: Abstract Expressionism, Bay Area figurative painting, and, especially, the two major figures she worked under independently at Standard: Frank Lobdell and Nathan Oliveira.
Nature, landscape, and the human body are keys to her rich and uncompromising art. By drawing upon previously unavailable notebooks, diaries, journals, and letters, Kangas is able to place Barnett’s original voice alongside his meditations upon her art. There, vivid color, energetic painterly attack, as well as smooth, pale, and quiet imagery, compete in repeated cycles over a period of five decades. Both her work and his essay make the case that Barnett has been underappreciated both in Bay Area art (she left too soon to be recognized) and in the Pacific Northwest, where her studio practice often superseded career moves yet has led to greater recognition among curators, other critics and art historians.