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Episode 16: Abstract Expression

Jess BarnettTom talks with abstract painter Jess Barnett about her work and why she prefers making paintings to working in a digital medium.

Jess also discusses painting techniques, the relation between art and language, and the burst of color that’s come into her life and work in recent years.


Listen to Episode 3 Episode 16: Abstract Expression

Image Gallery

 View images image #2 image #3 image #4 image #5 image #6 image #7 image #8 image #9 image #10of Jess’s paintings.

About Our Guest

Jess Barnett is an abstract painter living and working in the North End in Boston. A self-taught artist, she has been painting since 2004. She counts among her influences the Color Field movement, the region of New England, Japanese minimalist painters, Dale Chihuly, Franz Kline, and Francis Bacon.

A member of the Fort Point Artists Community (FPAC), she has exhibited in a variety of locations in the Boston and Cambridge area, including the Beacon Hill Art Walk, the SoWa Art Walk, Achilles, the FPAC Gallery Art at 12, the Lilypad in Inman Square, Cambridge Common, Bricco, and Harbor Art Gallery, among others. She is currently showing her work at Bricco in the North End, Blue Glass Cafe in the Hancock Tower in Boston, and Larkin Gallery in Provincetown. You can see images of her work at and on Facebook.

In addition, Jess serves as one of two arts editors for Printer’s Devil Review, an online literary and arts journal.


Abstract Expressionism

Mark Rothko, No. 9, White and Black on Wine, 1958.Read an overview of Abstract Expressionism by Paul Stella in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.  The movement, centered in New York in the 1950s, included artists such as Jackson Pollock (1912–1956), Willem de Kooning (1904–1997), Franz Kline (1910–1962), Lee Krasner (1908–1984), Robert Motherwell (1915–1991), William Baziotes (1912–1963), Mark Rothko (1903–1970), Barnett Newman (1905–1970), Adolph Gottlieb (1903–1974), Richard Pousette-Dart (1916–1992), and Clyfford Still (1904–1980).

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon. Self-Portrait.

Self-taught painter Francis Bacon drew from many sources for inspiration: first, Grunewald and Velazquez, and later, Degas, Van Gogh, and Picasso.

He was also influenced by the time-lapse photography of Muybridge and the films of Eisenstein, illustrated medical textbooks, and newspapers. Widely although idiosyncratically well read, he was intensely responsive to verbal imagery; especially important were T. S. Eliot’s poems and the plays of Aeschylus and Euripides. His highly original style incorporates elements of Surrealism and Expressionism and his deformed naked figures and anguished heads are usually contained within a characteristic perfunctory scaffolding or inner frame.” —Justine Hopkins, The Oxford Companion to Western Art.

Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper. Self-Portrait

Until the middle of his career, American realist painter Edward Hopper was best known for his illustrations and etchings rather than his paintings. In 1923, however, he began to paint watercolours depicting ocean scenes and artchitecture. In the 1930s, Hopper painted a number of oils and watercolours featuring scenes from Cape Cod, where he had a summer home with his wife.

A feeling of loneliness and detachment pervaded Hopper’s works in the second half of his career…The harsh realism of Hopper’s style was underscored by his preference for bright, shadow-casting light, seen in Office at Night (1940; Minneapolis, MN, Walker A. Cent.), or the strange luminosity of dusk, combined with artificial light in Gas (1940; New York, MOMA), a painting of a solitary man in an empty petrol station, in which a long shadow is cast by the light from the building on the right. In 1942 Hopper painted Nighthawks, an evocative canvas depicting people in an all-night diner.” —Grove Art Online.

Jasper Johns

Jasper Johns. Target.

Along with Robert Rauschenberg, the work of American painter and sculptor Jasper Johns heralded a shift from abstract expressionism to pop art and minimalism. 

Much of his [John’s] work has been done in the form of series of paintings representing such commonplace two-dimensional objects—for example Targets and Numbers. His sculptures have most characteristically been of equally banal subjects such as beer-cans or brushes in a coffee tin. Such works—at one and the same time laboriously realistic and patently artificial—are seen by his admirers as brilliant explorations of the relationship between art and reality; to others, they are as uninteresting as the objects depicted. Johns has said that he is not concerned with their symbolism, but simply wants to look at familiar objects with fresh vision.” —Ian Chilvers, The Oxford Companion to Western Art

Franz Kline

Franz Kline. Black Reflections.

Franz Kline “had a passion for drawing and a deep interest in the old masters, in particular Rembrandt, Goya, Manet, and Whistler. He returned from Europe to New York in 1939 and worked on both abstract and figurative paintings…In 1949, [Kline] saw some of his small brush drawings enlarged by projector. This sparked the work for which he is best known, large abstract black on white forms, freely worked and painted with enormous brush strokes.” —Robin Plummer, The Oxford Companion to Western Art

Elizabeth Murray

Elizabeth Murray. Worms Eye. Oil on Canvas.

American painter Elizabeth Murray drew from a variety of influences, including Cézanne, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns. 

Her first mature works included Children Meeting (oil on canvas, 2.56×3.22 m, 1978; New York, Whitney), and they evoke human characteristics, personalities or pure feeling through an interaction of non-figurative shapes, colour and lines. Murray is particularly well known for her shaped canvases, which date from 1976, on to which are painted both figurative and non-figurative elements…” —Grove Art Online

Jésus Rafael Soto

Jésus Rafael Soto. Penetrable. Nylon Tubing.

Soto was a Venezuelan painter, sculptor and kinetic artist.

Soto favoured industrial and modern synthetic materials such as perspex, nylon, steel, thin metal rods and industrial paint in the series of works incorporating real and apparent movement that he began in 1955. In the early 1960s he explored the textures of objets trouvés, including old wood, discarded and rusty wire and unravelled rope, in such works as Old Timber (1960; untraced, see Joray and Soto, p. 93). His kinetic works created oppositions between static and dynamic elements so as to invite the spectator’s active participation both visually and intellectually. His Penetrables of the 1960s took this involvement one step further by inviting the spectator into a transparent, fluid and moving mass of suspended nylon threads…  

In his kinetic works of the 1980s, such as the Ambivalences series, Soto introduced a variety of colours (in contrast to the deliberately restricted colour range that had dominated his early works) arranged almost arbitrarily to create an impression of vibrating movements and a destabilized physical structure…” —Grove Art Online


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