Barnet, Will

views updated


BARNET, WILL (1911– ), U.S. painter, graphic artist, and teacher. Barnet was born in Beverly, Massachusetts. He started drawing at age six, recording his childhood home and family. His artistic studies began at the Art School at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1928. In 1931, the year he issued his first lithograph, he received a scholarship to study at the Art Students League (1931–34) in New York City. There he began classes with Stuart Davis and Charles Locke. By 1935 he began serving as the League's official printer, supervising editions by William *Gropper, among others; two years later he became an instructor of graphic art at the League. During these early years Barnet depicted social themes influenced by the work of the Mexican muralists, particularly José Clemente Orozco. He recorded city life in prints such as Idle Hands (1935), which shows the mind-dulling effect of the Depression on a homeless man, and in prints such as Cafeteria Scene (1934) and Conflict (1934). This latter scene depicts a group of bulky men storming a city building. Barnet held his first one-man show at the Eighth Street Playhouse in New York in 1935 and served as the technical adviser in graphic art for the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration in 1936.

In the 1940s he showed his works in various venues in New York and beyond. At this time he began to focus on painting, making colorful, simplified canvases of his children and wife. He taught in several settings, most notably painting at the Art Students League (until 1980) and graphic art at the Cooper Union in New York. Other institutions at which Barnet taught include the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the University of Minnesota at Duluth. Students who later went on to illustrious art careers include Mark *Rothko, Audrey Flack, and Donald Judd. In the 1950s, Barnet's printwork and painting became even more abstract, influenced by the simple design and balance of American Indian handicraft design. This interest relates to his goal of creating a "real American art." Throughout his career, Barnet oscillated between abstraction and figuration.


R. Doty, Will Barnet (1984); G. Stavitsky, Will Barnet: A Timeless World (2000).

[Samantha Baskind (2nd ed.)]

About this article

Barnet, Will

Updated About content Print Article