Will Barnet and I have long been good friends. I greatly admire his pictures and he has kind opinions of my books. Feeling himself very much an American artist, he thought of me to write the introduction.

I have always sought, in writing about artists, to find what I consider the inevitable interrelation of the work with its creator's personality and experiences. Will and I had had many previous talks, but always on a purely convivial level. So we agreed to get together for a more serious interview.

We met in his high-ceilinged studio in the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park in New York. Knowing that Will receives constant phone calls, I had made it a condition that he remove the receiver from the hook. (Several calls slipped in while I took off my hat and coat and got settled--it was too early for the drink he offered me--and then he did remove the receiver.) He did this a little regretfully, I judged, as if he were feeling rather shy. But once we got talking, he entered into the conversation with an enthusiasm that matched my own.

My first question concerned certain recurring subjects in his work: Why were so many of the female figures in his paintings topped with his wife Elena's face (easily recognizable because of her distinctively slanted, brilliant turquoise eyes)? He answered that he considered family relationships fundamental to human existence. Even in the semi-representational paintings of his earlier days, although the figures verged on the abstract, they had represented his first wife and their three sons. Subsequendy, his growing daughter, Ona Willa, had been a favorite subject.

He often included cats, he explained, not only because he sees their curves as echoing those of a recumbent woman, but because cats had long inhabited his households. Why parrots? His father had bought parrots from sailors back from tropical seas. Domestic associations, he added, although not directly communicated to his viewers, brought, because of his feelings, a warmth to his images.

An earlier version of this essay appeared as the Introduction to Will Barnet ( New York: H. N. Abrams, 1984).


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