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In Robert Barnes' first major solo show in Brisbane in 1985, he painted with tremendous energy and urgency, applying paint thick as whipped cream and then shaping surfaces with a palette knife.
Now, in this year's exhibition at the Victor Mace Gallery, all this energy, urgency, and colour has been compacted into small paintings in small frames which vibrate with colour and tonal contrasts as he paints objects and people in his studio. And there are landscapes painted with the honesty of execution of a Constable, in which, in his own inimitably tactile way, Barnes gives us the subtlety of pale contrasts, or landscapes which capture, in more vivid colours, what has been his constant pursuit - the Queensland light.
Barnes' paintings can evoke a rare mood of excitement in the responsive viewer. They give a heightened awareness in their translations from reality; they are zestful and restorative with life.
Born in Brisbane, Barnes was educated in Scotland and received a thorough training in art at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee. He has looked hard and long at the western traditions of art and then used his learnt technique to create his own unique approach.
Barnes' strength lies in a very great ability to expand small canvasses by, for instance, filling them with artist's models and studio impedimenta, including his painter's chair. This, of course. is also his weakness when overcrowding has occasionally turned an interior into a crowded room in a doll's house.
I by-passed the small Landscape in the Morning in favour of the larger work, Pumicestone Passage and then returned to the Morning painting, my eye caught and held by a singular purity in the work, with the green used so much more effectively than in his exhibition last year.
Robert Barnes may well be the artist whom critics, who complain of the secondhand and derivative quality of much Australian art, are seeking. Few can capture the Queensland light the way he does in his landscapes, and fewer still can achieve paintings which reveal something new each time you stand back to examine them.
Barnes is not only about the visible but the "invisible" which you can discover through these paintings, and which becomes the bond between you and him. Recently, someone showed me a small watercolour done by a young student of Robert Barnes. it bore all the marks of imaginative teaching - another reason to cherish this man.