From Clear-Edge to Abstraction: The Path of Artist Will R. Barnet

Katherine20th Century Art, Artist SpotlightLeave a Comment

Will R. BarnetNever content in doing the same thing twice, Will R. Barnet’s career is characterized by constant change. While many of his paintings vary in style, there is a quality that unifies them all – a passion for form. In these works, structure and geometry meet realism and narrative. His works are haunting and thoughtful, even when they are common place images of family. Otherworldly yet familiar, the paintings of Barnet are striking.

At 19, Barnet left his native Massachusetts for New York City. Armed only with $10 and portfolio of paintings of his family and cats, Barnet had the romantic notion of wandering the city. Being a youth in the Depression era, he quickly became radicalized. His art were Social Realist prints, a showcase of all the sins of the decade. At night, Barnet walked the city and sketched the faces of the homeless and those below the poverty line.

With the raise of Abstract Expressionism in the 1940s, Barnet took an interest in Modernism. In his works, colors became bolder and he developed a method he called “clear-edge.” Clear-edge is looking at the human form as a series of shapes and how they fit together in the space. This concept would carry over into his later art thanks to his love of form and arrangement. With this shift in focus, Barnet joined the art group Indian Space Painters, who combined Native American and European art. This resulted in pieces representing explosive and complicated geometrical shapes.

In the 1960s, Barnet returned to a more traditional style art. However, he did not stop innovating. Influenced by a wide variety of sources, from Japanese printmaking to the early Renaissance, Barnet continued to transform. From the 60s to the 70s, he produced a number of personal works. One was an exploration of his New England upbringing. Each piece features an enigmatic woman overlooking the sea. All these pieces have a rich life, a story hidden just below the surface. There is a flat quality to the work, but nothing is stilted or cartoony. The lines are clean and precise.

In 2003, Barnet returned to pure abstraction. He continued to work until his death at age 101. His career was his expression of his fascination with people, family, and simple, elegant form.


Kenny Ackerman is an Art Dealer in New York, specializing in Fine Art Paintings from 19th-21st century Europe and America. To buy or sell original paintings by artists we represent, contact Ackerman’s Fine Art here.


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