Barnaby Furnas - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 11, 2011 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York

  • Literature

    USA Today: New American Art from The Saatchi Gallery, exh. cat., London, RoyalAcademy of Arts, 2006, pp. 138–39 (illustrated); Abstract America: New Painting, exh. cat.,London: Jonathan Cape, 2008, pp. 384–85 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    For Adam J. Lerner, the Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, what is striking about Barnaby Furnas, the American artist who showed his work there last year, was “the degree to which he didn’t seem to want to affect anything at all”. Furnas’s technique would seem to bear this out. He pours, drips, throws and slathers cans of vibrantly coloured paint on to the surface of a sloping canvas to create monumental images of flood-like washes of vivid colour. He then uses large brooms to sweep the pigment down and over the canvas which is sprayed with water to enhance the flow and spread. “One of the things I do well is to let things be what they want to be”, says Furnas. Spontaneity, chance and experimentation with the physical properties of the pigment are essential to his large-scale works as well as his direct physical interaction with the picture plane. “The paint was making the painting and not the artist. It’s like it’s really happening“ he has said.

    Flood (Red Sea), 2006, is dominated by the colour red, which ranges from intense and vibrant hues at the top to darker, more sombre reds and black at the bottom. The background of the light blue sky shines through subtly while seemingly being swallowed up by the flood of redness, with all the attendant associations of blood and emotions such as passion or rage. Such a painterly practice associates Furnas not only with the European tradition of history paintings and Romanticism but also with the Action Painting and Abstract Expressionism of the post-war era in the United States. A significant precursor for Furnas is the Abstract Expressionist Barnett Newman, famous for his ‘zip paintings’ in which a thin vertical band of colour divides an otherwise empty field of colour. For Newman, art was a spiritual and sublime act and the zip became the symbol of its materialisation. We can also find a faint zip-like vertical rupture in the landscapes of Barnaby Furnas’s works. According to Nora Burnett Abrams, curator of the Furnas show at Denver, however, Furnas’s work is concerned with another form of the sublime:

    “Furnas seems to aspire to the sublime of a very different type than the Romantic representation of it or Newman’s instantiation of it. Instead, Furnas’s sublime asserts itself in that tension between what we see on the surface and what we know lies behind it. It is that tension between the sense of calm and the destructive force of the flood, a tension between history and the present, between the Red Sea of the Bible and the harrowing ordeal of New Orleans in 2005, between tranquillity and the deluge of paint that sees to destroy it.” (N. B. Abrams and A. J. Lerner, Barnaby Furnas: Floods, exh. cat.,
    Denver: Sprint Press , Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, 2010 p. 29)

    The scale and indeterminate depth of this picture surface draw the viewer in who then becomes a part of the experience, and for Furnas, this exchange is fundamental to the relationship between viewer and painting. While the viewer is drawn to contemplation of notions of past and present, beginning and end, form and abstraction, in a similar way in which a painting by Mark Rothko might be contemplated, the experience of a Furnas painting is something more palpable: “If earlier treatments dealt with the description of or a personal confrontation with the sublime, Furnas’s work instead renders the sublime as an experience – but one that is accessible to all viewers … to facilitate an encounter between viewer and object and to make that confrontation as direct and visceral as possible” (Abrams and Lerner, Barnaby Furnas: Floods, 2010, p. 30–31).


Flood (Red Sea)

Acrylic and urethane on linen.
330.2 × 762 cm (130 × 300 in).

£150,000 - 250,000 

Sold for £169,250

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

12 October 2011