A GUIDEPOST REPRINT: “Spain Through an American’s Eyes,” 14 July1972

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by George Potter
14 July 1972


American painter Robert Barnete has lived in Spain for close to 30 years. In that time he has seen
all of the country; seen assimilated, and expressed his observations on canvas.

Barnete is probably the best-known foreign painter of Spain today.   More than a painter, he is an interpreter of the color and vitality of Spanish lore.   His principal themes flamenco and bulls come alive on canvas with his very particular blend of color and form.

June 12th he inaugurated his most recent exposition in the Camarote Granados of the Hotel Manila in Barcelona.   This was an exhibit of some 30 paintings, half bulls and flamenco, with a couple of finely detailed studies of Moorish architecture slipped in.

Barnete takes each painting’s central theme very much to heart when he sets out to portray a particular scene.   His knowledge of the national dance and sport lends endless references to any specific part of the subject  —   a hand in a certain position, the seemingly pained expression of an intense flamenco dancer, the exact placement of a rejoneador’s horse evading a charging bull.  He has profoundly studied these themes, and over the years has developed a style that is unique.

The centerpiece of the Barcelona exhibition was a scene very rarely portrayed in bullfight art; the last moments of the bull’s life as he drops to his knees.   The triumphant matador stands defiantly close to the dying animal, proudly signaling his assistants to “stay away, I have triumphed in the moment of truth.”   This stance is often seen in photographs in sports magazines and journals on bullfighting, but seldom, very seldom has any painter depicted the scene on canvas.

A feeling of life comes across in Barnete’s works.  He pays special attention to the details of facial expressions, body position and movement.   His use of strong colors brings even more life to the work.   But, he never burdens his paintings with an overabundance of details.   The viewer sees and “feels” the motion of the subject and is immediately aware of the “living” subject, yet there may only be one or two very finely detailed parts in the work.

He “clouds” his backgrounds in mixtures of soft and sharp tones, all bent together in generally bold strokes that help emphasize the central theme of the piece.

Recently, in the offices of the Ministry of Information and Tourism, in a ceremony presided by the Minister himself, the American painter was honored.   Barnete’s public acclaim came as a result of his graceful, action-filled expressions of Spanish life.

Some time ago, the late D. Eduardo Chicharro of the Royal Academy made the following commentary on Radio Nacional de España: “Barnete has captured the essence of the “lberican” in his very original thirst and wildness to change the world of form into undulating contortions, and in a painting of his we have not merely something folkloric, but forms united by a human cause.    In all his paintings, Barnete portrays a Spain that is profound and mysterious, a hitherto almost unseen aspect.   Barnete has found the powerful stimulus in his themes to produce art, and nobly gets down to a task that most artists shy away from as a vicious circle full of difficulties and exposed to the furor of criticism like few others, especially when created in Spain itself… Barnete the INTERPRETER of Spain ends up as the PAINTER of Spain, subtle and sensitive and almost prophetic.”

Having known the artist for many years, I have found much in his personality that is expressed on his canvases.   His yearning to discover new ideas and ways to express them always maintaining a carefully uncontrolled discipline which he applies to his works and himself.

The Catalan critics are a very astute lot, and at times, devastatingly critical. Barnete passed their tests with flying colors, with a number of very favorable write-ups in the local press, plus two radio commentaries.   He has also made an impression on the local art connoisseurs, with sales of some 20 of the exhibited paintings, no less than five to one particular collector.

This was the first time the transplanted American artist had exhibited in Catalonia, and he admitted to having mixed emotions prior to the opening. These emotions have now been transformed into a great appreciation of the Barcelona art circle.

Presently Barnete is finalizing plans for what he considers will be one of his most important future exhibitions in Beirut at the end of summer.    Other plans call for periodic exhibitions in Barcelona and Bilbao, as well as his continuing exhibits in Madrid at the Hilton and Luz Palacio hotels and his own studio.