Review Magazine, March 2004 | The Pitch, February 2004 | Street Miami, October 2003, September 2003 | Zing magazine, Spring/Summer 2001 | Art Actuel Hors Serie No. 3, June 2001
NY Arts magazine, March 2001 | Object magazine No. 2, Summer 2000

Review Magazine
March 2004

"Disguises and Doppelgängers"


By Oz McGuire

An antithetical desperation to Mr. X is portrayed in Lenny Hurch's untitled video work, which portrays the artist in a warts-and-all close up intended for a video dating service. In Lenny's statement he reveals his daytime job as a short order cook and his love of NASCAR as well as his desire "to meet a hot lady who's into the finer things, like getting eat out." His crass straightforward lexicon is matched by the imagery in the video. Lenny is not only a pig, but also an ogre with a pudgy face that has not been shaven in three days, a greasy head of black receding hair, and he sweats profusely. In the short video the artist makes a range of noises and sound effects using his mouth, lips, lungs, and solar plexus. From the fart mimicking to the post-orgasmic yawn Hurch displays a range of pitch and scale that has been edited in post-production to achieve a great effect of allegros and crescendos, ending with the artist looking exhausted and pleased.

February 5, 2004

By Theresa Bembnister

Davin Watne, the curator of Alias, promised the artists in his show that he would never reveal who they really were. The videographers, photographers, painters, sculptors and other artists assumed other identities to create their work. At the show's January 16 opening, visitors' guesses totally missed their marks, Watne says, while the artists could have been standing a few feet away snickering to themselves.

In curating the show, Watne says he was inspired by his observations of how art-world aliases have evolved over the years. "In the past, women and minorities, and in general, marginalized people, have invented new identities in order to have their work taken seriously by those who held sway other their exposure," he writes in a statement accompanying the show. Judging by the number of minority, foreign and uneducated-artist aliases in this show, what was once seen as a bad thing in the art world is now a good thing. At least two of the aliases are former prostitutes, four were born in other countries and another is in prison. "Contemporary art is searching for these outsider artists. The art world is hungry for exoticism," Watne says. "We're from Kansas. We can't be exotic." But working under an alias, an artist can be whatever he or she wants to be. It's too bad the work in this show doesn't reflect that wide-open range of possibility.

Weirdly, Alias lacks any of the risk-taking one might expect from a group of artists working incognito. Visually, Alias looks a whole lot like all the other shows at the Urban Culture Project's Bank gallery (with the exception of Your Face's wearable art show this past December).

The show includes the work of ten local and four national artists. If most of them take any advantage of their hidden identity, it's to make amateurish and aesthetically dull work while pretending to be untrained artists. For example, "Just Walking," by someone allegedly named Evelyn Casey Adams, is a roll of 24 black-and-white pictures in cheap, dollar-store frames hanging on the pillar in the center of the gallery. Adams is supposedly a new resident of 3600 Broadway, No. 515. (That's actually the address of the midtown strip mall that houses Marsh's Apple Market, a Dollar General and Plasma Donation Services.) She has apparently taken a roundabout walk to the Apple Market with her imaginary neighbor Joe Masterson. The effort, she writes in her artist's statement, is an attempt to document "the interesting people and places that ensure [her] stability." The photographs are low-contrast, lucid snapshots of the signs and shopfronts near the intersection of Broadway and Valentine -- reference points most midtowners have seen thousands of times but never looked at closely. There's good reason for that: With the exception of one superbly composed shot of Mr. Masterson carrying shopping bags in front of the grocery store, there's little to capture the viewer's attention for longer than a split second. The series could undoubtedly be improved simply by editing out some of the photographs, but that probably wouldn't have occurred to an unsophisticated artist like Adams. The irony of the situation -- that in reality, Adams is most likely an experienced artist -- adds little interest to the work.

Many Alias artists decided to experiment with new media. Painters became videographers, and 2-D artists tried their hands at sculpture, all with mixed results. Watne says one artist, a painter from New York City, decided to create a video as a way to make fun of the medium's too-often highly conceptual and cerebral attitude. The resulting untitled video, reportedly made by a Hooters cook named Lenny Hurch, is one of the best works in the show. Hurch's Dirty Girlery video-dating service film features an extreme close-up of a sweaty-faced man with a unibrow. To show that he has something more to offer than "his own place and car," Hurch writes in his artist's statement, the man in the video is "busting some beats." He spits, huffs, blows and slurps out a rhythmic ditty that picks up speed as the video plays on. With music reminiscent of a second-grade classroom full of boys making farting noises with their armpits, the piece is a captivating exercise in video editing. Hurch's statement explains that the dating video is intended to attract "a hot lady who's into the finer things, like getting eat out," which adds a grossly funny and downright disturbing bent to the work.

The artists' statements and bios are more entertaining than the visual art in this show. One gets the feeling that the artists had more fun and used a lot more imagination coming up with their alter egos than they did making the art. In one bio, a photographer who goes by the name of Miracle Don writes that he earned his nickname after surviving a trip through a two-story piece of heavy pulping machinery suffering only two broken bones, some lacerations and the loss of one eye. Meanwhile, studies by OSHA and the MacCurskey Machine Co. showed that there was a .006 percent chance of Don's survival. This caused him to experience an epiphany. "It is only through loss that one glimpses the here and now," he writes, "and man's travails are best told by what he has left behind." Only after losing his eye did Don gain the wisdom to see more clearly, knowledge he tries to pass on through his photography -- some of which is part of pop singer Michael Bolton's private art collection. Don's "Absence Is the Only Proof That We Ever Existed" series is vividly colored and textured; particularly beautiful is the photograph of a red-painted ax in a white metal holder attached to a white wall. Some of the ax's red paint covers the white metal holder, suggesting spilled blood. But for the most part, Don's soap-opera story is more interesting than his photos.

Similarly, the statement for Crystal K's art-therapy watercolor drawings and collage recounts a former child prostitute's Jerry Springer -ish tale of brutal beatings and the death of her "street mother." Crystal K uses the art-therapy images to, she writes, "explore the things that were good from being a little girl." She combines simple watercolor pencil-line drawings of early scenes from her life with corresponding cutouts from catalogs. A blond-haired, blue-eyed little girl wearing a pink dress with the words "Birthday Princess" smiles a toothy, saccharine grin from the bottom of one sheet of watercolor paper; Crystal's watery line drawing of a man watching a girl sit at a table with her cupcake dissipates in the center of the page. Crystal's drawings are sad, but the creepy perfection in the accompanying catalog images is more evocative than her own autobiographical drawings.

Crystal K's work hangs next to digital prints by one Harold Brown, whose rÈsumÈ includes an MFA from the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts and shows at the Walker Arts Center. This accomplished artist mounts his C-prints on foam-core board and arranges them in a panorama. "Untitled (Study for Tropical Storm Isetta #3074)" attempts to deal with, Brown writes, "philosophical speculations about the true nature of reality and the mysterious workings of the universe."

But the piece just looks like unprofessional digital snapshots of trash on a cheap blue carpet, leading the viewer to question the validity of art that aspires to such a grandiose and unspecific goal. | originally published: February 5, 2004

Street Miami
Fri, Oct. 17, 2003



By Damarys Ocaña

Peter Barrett is not a spontaneous guy.

Every last inch of surface on his paintings and objects -- on view at his first solo Miami show at Ingalls & Associates -- is considered, mapped, accounted for, and obsessively worked over with orderly layers of paint and pattern. Even the paintings on fancifully shaped fiberboard are just so. In fact, you may think the pieces are machine-made, until you look closely or whiff the smell of paint in the air.

This is not anal retentiveness for its own sake -- it's no coincidence that the show, curated by former Centre Gallery director Jennifer L. Gray, is called Permutation. Barrett has developed his technique as the language for a skin-tight synthesis of a plethora of interests -- science, science fiction, Op Art, tantric art, computer art, and animation, among others. Despite its smooth presentation, there's a subtle tension at work in Barrett's art, between rigidity and fluency, complexity and simplicity, that saves it from being too silky.

The largest painting in the show, Entrance, which, incidentally, took Barrett one year to finish, is based on a grid-pattern; rectangular rings made up of smaller units containing egg-like shapes that become smaller and smaller as they lead to a bright door-like rectangle in the center. Barrett's deft color gradation within the rectangular rings draw you to the center, making the door appears suddenly, as if it were a revelation or vision.

In a series of three smaller paintings called Palimpsest, egg shapes encroach on a tight bike-chain pattern background like some microscopic virus.

Unsatisfied with the constraints of the right angles of a canvas, from those paintings, Barrett recently moved on to placing his geometric, tantric, and microscope-born shapes into paintings on shaped medium density fiberboard.

The shapes give the work a topographical overtone that underscores Barrett's intent -- to find and forge new territory where his interests can merge.
Mon, Sep. 29, 2003

Art Reviews

Technology plays starring role in artists' eye-catching work
A combination of keyboard manipulation and hand assembly can be seen on canvases at two galleries.

By Elisa Turner

Also at Ingalls & Associates is Sci-EYE, a luscious series of paintings by New York-based artist Peter Barrett, in a show curated by Jennifer Gray. While Bransford's delicate scenarios quietly chart entwining paths of science and fiction, Barrett's vividly painted hemispheres, planetary orbs, rectangles, and uncoiling circuitry zap the eye with the glowing colors of carnivals and computer screen graphics. Certainly he can serve up intricate, eye-popping patterns with all the punch of Op-Art, but the most appealing of these works have an endearing tactile irregularity that no screen saver can touch.

Elisa Turner is The Herald's art critic.

Issue 15
Spring/Summer 2001

Peter Barrett at Folin/Riva, New York

By John Judge

The photo on the card announcing this show confounded me. When I first saw the black-and-white image, I tried to identify its group of white ovals arranged in curved rows. Eggs? Not likely. A picture of one of Barrett's abstract paintings? Possibly. But if so, his work had changed significantly since I had last seen it. I turned the postcard over to find the picture's title, but it wasn't there. I shrugged and simply admired the image's poetic elusiveness.

I cringed a bit, however, when I saw the title of the entire exhibition, "Keys to the Realm." The mysterious eloquence of the photo on the front had given way to this somewhat heavy-handed text on the back. "Boy, he sure is promising a lot," I said to myself.

Having now seen Barrett's new paintings, photos and video in person, the title no longer bothers me. In fact, the title and the announcement card's photo are a clever embodiment of a recurrent theme in Barrett's work: the coexistence of opposites and the intriguing results created by their interplay.

A group of c-prints similar to the announcement's image displayed this interplay compellingly. About 13 x 22", these photographs called Clusters suggested grandiose subjects. Maybe they're chandeliers, I thought; perhaps a string of pearls. While later talking to the artist, I discovered that I should have pursued the mundane tack suggested by my culinary interpretation of the postcard's photo. The white ovals of these pictures are, in fact, light cast through the holes of a colander.

Barrett happened upon this image while washing dishes. He saw the ovals of light on the kitchen wall and snapped some photos with a simple automatic camera. He then printed the pictures without any darkroom manipulation. The fact that these subtly stunning images grew out of such a common household activity and a simple creative process enhances their allure.

Most visitors to Folin/Riva probably didn't know the prosaic origins of the Cluster series. The title gave them no hints, and Barrett was not present to help them. So, in all likelihood, some of the people who saw the Cluster pictures left the gallery assuming the photos were of pearls, chandeliers, or something else more elegant than a colander.

However, viewers who looked carefully at other works in the show would have known to doubt such an interpretation of the Cluster series. For example, in Untitled Video Still, a translucent yellow substance covers some black objects. Those are flames and charcoal, I thought at first. But when I watched The Same River Twice, the video that produced this image, I discovered that what I took for fire was actually water flowing over some rocks. In the still picture the water seemed to burn because it was reflecting the light of the sun. So with this video and photo, Barrett assumes the role of a video-age magician making fire out of water.

Barrett's artistic sleight-of-hand reappears with dizzying effects in his paintings. In the cleverly named Entrance, he overwhelms our eyes with a large, vibrantly colored composition. Viewers should regard this 78 x 66" canvas both at a distance of many feet and from just a few inches away. From afar, one sees a bright yellow-green along the painting's border gradually recede to a rich, darker blue in the center. Barrett has placed in the middle of this blue a 24 x 9" column whose own magenta edges surround a deep, fiery orange that eventually advances to a hot yellow in the center.

Barrett has created a disorienting visual dichotomy with this color scheme. On one hand, the gradual transition from the bright edges to the much darker center made the painting seem to recede into a void. Because Entrance is bigger than I am, I felt the painting pull me into this space and thereby illustrate one meaning of the title. But almost immediately, the center column stopped me. Its own yellow center protruding from its orange and magenta borders, the column seemed to enter my space and hold me in place. If I had stared at Entrance long enough, it might have induced a trance, which would have made clear the title's other meaning.

Fortunately, I was able to pull myself away from the painting eventually. However, I noted another dichotomy before moving on. The gradation of color in Entrance is so seamless that one might assume either that it was computer-generated or was based on a computer-generated image. Moreover, the painting has a readily apparent grid with hundreds of squares that allude to computer pixels. But upon close inspection, Entrance reveals itself to be completely human-made.

When viewing from a few inches away, one sees that Barrett filled each square with four sets of concentric rings. Like the overall painting, the color of these sets gradates from center to edge. A computer pixel's color has no such gradation. In addition, the rings are slightly irregular in shape, and the paint's thickness is erratic. Clearly, this painting was created by hand.

I had no doubt about the origin of Archipelago, another disorienting work. A series of irregularly clustered groups of concentric rings, Archipelago spreads across one entire wall of Folin/Riva, with some sets of rings touching the floor and others the ceiling. Each set of rings consisted of a few outer bands hand-painted directly on the wall. These rings surrounded a series of progressively smaller rings painted on wooden semi-orbs. Although these half-spheres bubbled out from the wall at least three inches, from a distance they actually seemed like depressions. The outer rings were much darker than the interior ones, thereby creating this optical illusion.

Such trickery must have wreaked havoc on many viewers' depth perception. The title added to this spatial disorientation. Because the piece is called Archipelago, one could interpret each orb as a small island and its rings as waves. Although viewers stood in a gallery and looked straight ahead to see this installation, they were figuratively in the sky looking down on Archipelago. I wonder if some people left the gallery after encountering Entrance and Archipelago, simply too dizzy to stay.

Viewers driven away by Barrett's paintings might have dismissed this show as a mere visual game. But they would have missed the substance of the work. A self-described childhood fan of cartoons, Barrett is also drawn to Eastern religious art. A painting such as Entrance embodies these two seemingly antithetical aspects of his personality. While the painting's vibrant, nearly garish colors could make up the palette of many Hannah-Barbera or Warner Brothers animated productions, the concentric rings of Entrance allude to Tantric drawings and other Asian spiritual art. So, while Barrett's paintings and photographs might trick our eyes and throw off our equilibria, on a more profound level they also illustrate the contradictions inherent in the artist.

Most people have similarly inconsistent personalities. Such inconsistency can often be confounding and unsettling. Barrett makes this confusion palpable in works like Entrance and Archipelago, yet in Untitled Video Still and the Cluster series, he also compellingly displays ambiguity's allure. Barrett is drawn to contradiction. And in this exhibition he made it fascinating.

Peter Barrett's Rippling World
NY Arts Magazine
March 2001

By Erica Snow

Peter Barrett's exhibition "Keys to the Realm" offers a painted installation (Archipelago, 2001): appropriately named, corner fitting, painted wood wall sculptures (Squinch XV and Squinch XIII, both 2000); photographs of spots of light- sunlight filtered through a colander (Cluster V and Cluster IV, both 1999); a video with sound (The Same River Twice, 1999) and numerous paintings of either oil on wood or oil on canvas.

When speaking, Barrett is articulate. He makes the claim that there is an "insurgent potential in advanced beauty." He wants his work to exist "exactly in the middle of everything," and talks about positioning his work between the low and the high and his interest not only in Op art but in "sacred geometry" and Tantric and Tibetan works and Islamic ornamentation and the work, in general of iconoclastic religions and how abstraction is suited to "open-ended metaphor." Further, Barrett says that though he has very specific ides about his work and politics he wants to leave his work open for the viewer and that he is "not interested in overtly political art," for when art becomes "overly didactic it loses its ambiguity and the friction that makes poetry."

And this brings us to the work. On first glance op art effects dominate and psychedelia, not to mention the Bridget Riley retrospective nearby at Dia, come to mind. But even before being given a second look, the paintings, as well as the rest of the multimedia presentation, defy easy categorization. The font of the exhibition is the video projection The Same River Twice, 1999. Simply, the camera has caught the play of sunlight on a section of stream, always the same yet always different. The title comes from the 2500 year old quote "You cannot step into the same river twice," from the Greek guy Heraclitus. This might not be so exciting except in the next room, on the same west wall, are four paintings entitled Boustrophedon, 2000. Boustrophedon, you should worry if the definition rolls off your tongue, comes from a Greek word for "turning like an ox while plowing" and is an ancient method of writing where lines are alternately inscribed left-to-right and then (instead of going back to the start) right-to-left. The term is also used in computer jargon and describes a moving printer head that prints in each direction as it travels. The references to systems of mark making are easy to see within the works themselves. The patterns of marks in the paintings, that from a distance suggest light on water, up close appear systematically produced. Emphasizing the association with the video in the next room is that each of the works is painted in one primary hue; the four paintings of Boustrophedon are identified as Black & White, Blue, Green and Red. But blue, green, and red are the primary hues of additive colors, of projected light (of video and television) and not the primary hues of subtractive colors (the red, yellow, blue of painting. A bit of a twist on Barnett Newman¼s Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow, Blue?

Barrett refers to his multimedia approach as a kind of "triangulation." He likes the idea of making categories between media mute and finds it "annoying that painting goes in and out of fashion." He also thinks of painting as still being a "cutting-edge medium." Despite Barrett's interest in creating works which at once, from afar, imitate effects that could be more easily achieved in Photoshop, as he puts it, and can be seen to be particularly crafted when closely studied, his painting style seems, perhaps, overly utilitarian. An oil on wood tondo like Vibraslap, 2000 presents an inventive, optically teasing pattern and a feast of odd coloration and unique shapes, but on the level of surface treatment and paint application it is uniform and even mundane. It would be interesting to see Barrett pull out the stops and flex the same intellectual muscle he uses in approaching diverse media, styles and complex subject matter at the material level of his paintings' construction.

Of the more poetically complex paintings in the exhibition is a recent one, Entrance, 2001. The painting offers a yellow filled pink rectangle at its center with a pattern of cooler colors at once receding and advancing and undulating all around it. As subjective as choosing and interpreting colors is, there is something wonderfully off putting about the awkwardness of this particular pink. The painting becomes a seductive "entrance" to somewhere we aren't really sure we want to go.

Barrett may not be, at the moment, what one thinks of as a painter's painter, but perhaps more importantly he is a thinker's painter or, better, a thinking painter. As he puts it, "We all contribute to culture, you tap into the zeitgeist and put your shoulder where you think it goes and push; you never know what people are going to take with them."

Peter Barrett
Keys to the Realm

Art Actuel Hors Serie #3
June 2001

By John Peter Brakewood

(Translated from the French)

Paintings, Wooden sculptures, installation, photographs, video: different keys for entering into the metaphysical world of Peter Barrett.

We were much impressed by the originality of Peter Barrett's first solo show in Manhattan, at the beginning of 2001, in the eleventh floor Chelsea gallery of Alexandre de Folin and Charles Riva. The show consisted of several paintings on canvas and wood, a wall installation, Archipelago, UFO-like sculptures in painted wood, the Squinch series, a video, with sound,The Same River Twice, and the suite of Cluster photographs, in which the light appears filtered through a colander.

Peter Barrett explores a specific artistic territory, between sacred geometry and psychedelic pop culture, between analog and digital technology, and between Tantric art and computer-generated art. The video, The Same River Twice, shows the surface of a flowing Vermont stream shot with a digital camera in available light, without manipulation: an aquatic procession, with a background of psychedelic music. Mystery also in the photographs, where it's impossible to tell if these vibrations of light are real or invented. In fact, they were really photographed.

The same holds for the paintings; seen from a certain distance, they could pass for digital prints, but as soon as one approaches, the textures become clear, at the limit of Op art and the 3-D universe. One would swear that another world begins behind the canvas. This complex alchemy works perfectly in Entrance, a recent oil on canvas. At the center of the canvas stands vertical rectangle of pink and yellow, clearly defined in a colorful geometric environment which changes from yellow to blue, and which, depending on the position of the viewer, contracts and undulates. This effect attracts the gaze towards this marvelous rectangle which seems to be a threshold which we hesitate to cross. For that, we need some keys of wisdom, to help us penetrate Peter Barrett's realm in which it is said he has combined Tantric, Islamic, and Tibetan philosophies.

Object Magazine #2, Summer 2000

Two-Dimensional Man
"Wall to Wall: No Name Exhibitions" @ The Soap Factory

by Andrew Knighton

The Soap Factory's "Wall to Wall" seems perfectly suited to the Twin Cities scene's current exhibition offerings -- after all, our more mainstream art venues are presently stuffed with the likes of Japanese "superflatness" and Impressionistic surface-fetish. At the Soap Factory, the theme is ostensibly also flatness and surfaces, as the subtitle of the show, "Eight Artists Working in Two Dimensions" promises. Yet "Wall to Wall" happily turns out to be a bait-and-switch of sorts -- the most provocative of the works assembled in this somewhat uneven show challenge the very limitations imposed by the show's moniker.

Of these, the most explicit is Shelly Bahl's Take-Away #2, which can't help but enter the third dimension and places a small chair-and-table set before the papered wall that is its central focus. The furniture augments the aura of domesticity that Bahl's florid wallpaper exudes. Nestled amidst the intricacies of the wallpaper's pattern there emerge hand-stamped figures--a bellydancer here, a compact car with suggestively-posed models there--highlighting the cultural convention that equates such standard bourgeois interiors with women's space.

But the figures Bahl insinuates among the patterns carry the theme of superficiality beyond the obviousness of their dark outlines. For the automatic exoticism of the belly dancer, not to mention the transparently fake lesbianism of the women who populate auto advertising, make superficiality not only the method but also the content of the piece. A small holder placed on the table in front invites the viewer to take a paper napkin inscribed with the printed image of the belly dancer. The napkin's flatness--as well as its transparency, were it to be held up to light--completes the theme.

Similarly uncomfortable with the demands of two-dimensionality is Peter Barrett, whose Archipelago seems to implicitly suggest the connection between this show's walls and Aldous Huxley's infamous "doors of perception." Barrett crosses the two-dimensional barrier with the help of psychedelically concentric circles; these emerge pregnantly in semi-spherical mounds from some 20 feet of yellow wall space. The effect is rather like that of watching a boiling cauldron of viscous fluid, from which radiant bubbles are in various stages of tumescence.

Complementing the anxious (and unproductive, if not unsatisfying) wait for Barrett's bubbles to explode or take flight are a number of busy graphite works on paper by Curtis Whaley. His untitled pieces similarly suggest frozen movement, in their agglomerations of repeatedly traced figures--faces in near profile, a bunny rabbit--that proliferate madly across the surface. As the scrawls multiply and intersect, the figures they represent become indistinct; what is left is a subtle play of light and dark. Those nuances are occasionally heightened by the frugal application of watercolors, as in a set of three pieces traversed by a beam of red. Its configuration evokes nothing so much as a toy auto-racing set.

While the contributions of Bahl, Barrett, and Whaley by turns exploit and challenge the two-dimensional regime of this show (which also features work from Jay Heikes, Jennifer Nevitt, J.J. Peet, Xavier Tavera, and Lynn Tomaszewski), some of the pieces in "Wall to Wall" have few merits other than simply being flat. For some artists, two dimensions are too few, and in other cases, two dimensions are too many-- as in those creations, which, taking the theme very literally, are wall-sized and dwarf the scattered smaller offerings. Despite its genuine appeal, this show at times provokes an acute awareness of the vast space between the walls of the Soap Factory, as well as the gaps yawning between the show's intriguing highlights.

"Wall to Wall" No Name Exhibitions @ The Soap Factory; 110 5th Ave. SE, Mpls. Through August 5. 612-623-9176.