Crucifixion/Cremation

Rex Barnes

U.S.A., b. 1972

Rex Barnes's paintings are arresting, alarming, disturbing, even shocking to some. This is not because of any salacious subject matter, but because of the firebrandish audacity of his colors and the feverish agitation of his brushwork. One could almost call violent his compositional force and the aggressive heat of his palette. The paintings are spatially simple, never containing but one object or human figure. There is thus a straightforward frontality, a confrontational, lapel-grabbing quality. The viewer cannot dodge these pictures, but must either stand and look at them or turn away in distaste.

Crucifixion/Cremation, with a red-headed, red-goateed Christ, is a haunting picture. It might have seemed impossible, after so much art history gone under the bridge, for any artist to paint a convincing, original crucifixion in the late 20th century. Yet this young artist has pulled it off. The Christ figure is seen foreshortened from above his head and cross, and has the skin-and-bone chest of a concentration-camp survivor. His figure fades away at groin level. The lower half of his body, and of the painting, is covered by an uneven, splintered curtain of bloody red paint, paradoxically upthrusting in spear-shapes, rather than giving a downward sense of life draining away. The picture's title indicates that these shapes are to be taken as flames, connoting the archetypal form of Christian martyrdom, and thus sublimating this crucifixion to an even higher symbolic, historical plane.

The artistic, thematic, and religious profundities of this painting are considerable, as is the spiritual shock that its palpable emotion and compositional brilliance impart. At this early stage of his art, Rex Barnes cites Egon Schiele (Austrian, 1890-1918) and Mathias Grünewald (German, c. 1470/80-1528) as his most admired predecessors. Certainly the angst of Schiele's human figures' poses informs Barnes's work. Furthermore, the physical agonies, and the mangled, torn body of Christ in Grünewald's several Crucifixions, are clearly echoed in Barnes's painting here.

Crucifixion/Cremation
Oil on canvas
37"w x 60.5"h
Rex Barnes
Working Out
Oil on canvas
23.75"w x 60"h
Rex Barnes

April 8, 1997
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