Painting Composition Principle: Will Barnet and Symmetry

Principle of Composition: Symmetry
by Maureen Bloomfield

Whether working in the realist or abstract idiom, Will Barnet seeks balance; a shape is countered by another shape in a reflexive manner that is never formulaic because Barnet always complicates or alters the shape that answers the other. Thus, his pictures evince a symmetry that’s never static.

This poise and counterpoise are most evident in the pictures whose theme is the double: the mother/child or the sister/sister. The one figure is the other’s mirror and, as in all mirrors, the second figure is often reversed. By making the shapes simple and interlocking and by using only a few, repeated colors, Barnet allows each figure to be separate but visually intertwined.

The Blue Robe by Will Barnet, symmetrical composition oil painting

'The Blue Robe' (1962; oil, 50x54). © Will Barnet, courtesy Alexandre Gallery, New York / National Academy Museum, New York; Private collection

In The Blue Robe, for example, the mother’s arm is extended, as is the daughter’s, but the daughter’s is coming from the opposite direction. The sinuous black cat, draped over the mother, is a shape that the daughter’s black hair and black tights repeat. The child rests on a blue plane; the mother’s outfit is the same blue. The interior form framed by the blue dress is a beautiful shape in itself, and it repeats, its orientation altered, in the girl’s dress.

Rhythm is the predominant design motif here: The composition proceeds (and this reminds me of Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series) from the artist’s first mark—the first shape contains within it all the shapes and all their permutations.

With forays into social realism, Art Brut, stylized figuration and abstraction, Barnet, now 100 years old, continues to seek an harmonious arrangement of forms. Click here to read more about his work in the January/February 2012 issue of The Artist’s Magazine in the article “In Balance,” by Jerry N. Weiss.


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