(American, b. 1946, lives and works in New Jersey)
Frances Barth's accomplished paintings are wholly individualistic and other than to say they are "radical abstractions" (Karen Wilkin), they are eccentric enough to elude classification. Barth refers to aspects of her work as a combination of comic restraint and purist abstraction. Combining contradictory elements of local color with abstract color, vocabularies of both painting and drawing, disorienting spatial relationships, Barth creates works that are as provocatively ambiguous as they are soothingly beautiful. In her desire to "tell stories without words" Barth implies narratives and geographies in a realm between landscape, mapping and abstraction. The narratives in the paintings are stories taking place over a period of geological time, with references both topographic and tectonic, alluding to simultaneous multiple histories. The light that Barth creates within her paintings is a spell-binding presence that shifts the picture plane into a deep dimensional space at the same time that her compositional shifts in scale destabilize. Speaking on her use of color the artist refers to her desire to create "big areas of ungracious color - chemical color that doesn't exist in nature - to open up like the sky but not be sky."
"... it's not an overstatement to say that they (Barth's paintings) suggest new possibilities for what abstract painting can encompass in the first part of the 21st century."
- Karen Wilkin, "Frances Barth" (catalog) 2008, Sundaram Tagore Gallery.
Frances Barth is a noted American artist and teacher. She makes abstract paintings and videos and has been the director of the multi-disciplinary Graduate school at Maryland Institute College of Art, the Mount Royal School of Art, since 2004. Frances was born in the Bronx, in New York City, and studied painting at Hunter College. She has exhibited her paintings widely in both solo and group exhibitions since the late 1960’s, and her work is represented in numerous public, corporate and private collections, including The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum, in NYC, The Dallas Museum of Art, TX, The Albright Knox Museum, Buffalo. Frances showed six of her paintings in the 2015 Venice Biennale at the Palazzo Grimani in "Frontiers Reimagined". Her awards include The National Endowment for the Arts grants in 1974 and 1982, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1977, the Joan Mitchell Foundation grant in 1995, two American Academy of Arts and Letters Purchase awards in ’99 and ’04, the Anonymous Was a Woman grant in 2006, and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant in 2017. Frances is married to the actor/director Ron Nakahara. She is the Director Emeritus of the Mt.Royal School of Art, Maryland Institute. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1977 and is in the canon of historically significant women abstract painters working in New York since the 1970's.
Early in her career, Frances also performed with Yvonne Rainer and Joan Jonas in New York City in live performance and video/film. During the last ten years she has created two animations, a documentary, and a short b&w film set in 1947, while remaining always focused on her painting. Around 1970, while in the John St. studio, Frances began working on large horizontal abstract paintings that were involved with ideas of gravity, slow painting time, indeterminate color, and trying to create a complex painting space that appeared geometric, but alternately shifted into a deeper space. The color acted simultaneously as atmosphere and object. In 1972 Marcia Tucker visited the studio and put Barth’s painting “Henning” in the Whitney Museum Painting Annual. By 1980 her painting had shifted to include referential markers and moved to a more evident landscape/mapped space that has a geological narrative. Frances had studied geology and while on a trip to Hawaii heard a Maori “reading” of abstract patterning that chanted a retelling of their voyage. She began thinking of how abstraction could hold meanings and act metaphorically.
Since then she has focused her work to include a linear narrative, almost like a creation story, over a period of geological time. She has pushed her painting into a realm between landscape, mapping and abstraction. The light in the paintings acts as phenomenon, and at the same time the abstract color creates an experience of light and place.
Video: For the past ten years Frances has also been working with animation and video. Her video, "Regina," a short portrait/documentary of the painter Regina Bogat, had its world premier at The Marfa Film Festival 2014.
"End of the Day, End of the Day" was her first animation/video with dialogue (TRT: 09:34), completed in 2007.
She is presently at work on a new hand drawn and digital animation project with multiple characters and music, tentatively called "Johnny in the Lake."
Frances is married to the actor/director Ron Nakahara. She is the Director Emeritus of the Mt.Royal School of Art, Maryland Institute