An abstracted view of the Art Institute of Chicago's Grand Staircase. The lone sculpture fictionally represents an armed officer pointing a gun at an absent figure.
[b. 1977 – New York, NY ::: lives & works – New Haven, CT]
CHRIS BARNARD received his BA from Yale and his MFA from The University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles. Having previously held faculty positions at Denison University, Indiana University, and USC, Barnard is currently associate professor of art at Connecticut College in New London.
Barnard’s work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and New Haven, among other locations, and can be found in public and private collections nationally and internationally. His work is represented by Fred Giampietro Gallery in New Haven, where he and his partner live.
In my work I focus on white supremacy’s relationship to the privileged spaces of my experiences, such as private art and educational institutions. Amidst widening gaps in wealth and opportunity, discussions about race, power, justice and representation—across visual culture broadly—seem more relevant than ever.
In many of my compositions, which reference real sites, I have inserted fictional elements to raise questions about the allegiances and priorities of these institutions, as well as people—including myself—who have benefitted from, or continue to support them. The resulting works are representational, but through gestural passages and color and surface manipulation, I aim to suggest instability, corrosion and decay. In the end, I strive to make engaging paintings that suggest dissonance and ambivalence, that entice and challenge viewers, just as painting them does for me.
These paintings are rooted in my contemplating Whiteness and emerge from wrestling with the politics of painting—the connections and gaps between painting and lived experience. They also reflect: a love of paint, the act of painting, and the power of the painted image; a regard for practitioners past and present, as well as those for whom practice has not been possible; and an admission of painting’s complicity with hegemonic power. As always, my process remains driven by questions. In this case, questions like: What role does painting play in the face of concrete social crises? How can my paintings respectfully incorporate¬—rather than exploit—relevant and thought-provoking content and imagery? What does it mean to think about racism, dehumanization, injustice, etc., and then to paint such pictures, and in particular as a straight, White man?
These questions and this body of work owe much to the work of others, and most acutely to four scholars’ books in particular: The History of White People, by Nell Irvin Painter; Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities by Craig Steven Wilder; The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander; and White Rage, by Carol Anderson. I am greatly indebted to the depth of research and insight that these books represent; each was inspiring as much as it was devastating. These people’s work, among others, influenced my own immeasurably, concretely sparking ideas for compositions, and more ephemerally—but equally importantly—by setting a standard, a tone, and a spirit for me in the studio that I strive to honor.
There is always danger in making art in response to inhumanity and suffering. I do so sincerely and humbly, without claiming success or certainty. And certainly, I recognize that painting has its limitations when compared to direct social action. That said, I believe art enables interaction and introspection for individuals, as well as creates opportunities for dialogue and discussion. My hope is that these works communicate a degree of internal struggle—among and between compositions, materials, processes, intents, and experiences—but, even more importantly, provoke conversation and critical thought.