October 09, 2005

Barnaby Furnas

While walking down Park Avenue yesterday, I was stopped in my tracks by the Apocalypse.

More precisely, I was riveted in place by "Apocalypse,” the immense (12’ x 28’) Barnaby Furnas painting currently inhabiting the lobby of the Lever House.

In its scale and subject, the work echoes Anselm Kiefer’s charred history landscapes. Unlike the German master, though, Furnas’s painting is reportage - not elegy - and very American.

The triumphs of heraldic New York School painting resonate on this canvas with the pathos of a dream once dreamed, then deferred and now turned nightmarish. The transcendent “zips” of Barnett Newman turn sinister, delivering blows at their termini and trails of burning phosphorus glowing in their wake. Paint splatters register as messy, explosive incidents of sacrificed bodily integrity. A sea of red roils, beings writhe and souls depart.

It is an all-over painting of video-game grade mayhem dressed up in acrid red, white and blue.

As I lingered before Furnas’s 2005 painting, I noticed that the trauma wrought by its imagery steadily ebbed. In its place rose a dawning perception of the innate beauty of a painter passionately at work. Probably, that’s what actually grabbed my attention in the first place.

Even the image of the Apocalypse won't survive the Apocalypse. Everything is always at stake. Furnas’s painting seems a pre-emptive act of beauty aimed to ward off terminal indifference. So it is with every artist who accepts custodianship of the visions in their trust.

On Thursday, October 20th, Barnaby Furnas will give a free Artist Talk at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education.

Posted by mark at October 9, 2005 02:18 AM