Rob Dean in conversation with Ivan Barnett about his new collection In the Garden & Beyond the Sky

Interview  /  Gallerist   BehindTheScenes
Published: 28.04.2017
Ivan Barnett Ivan Barnett
Rob Dean
Edited by:
Edited at:
Santa Fe
Edited on:
Ivan Barnett, Sculpture "Beyond the Sky 9"
. Back view.
Ivan Barnett, Sculpture "Beyond the Sky 9"
Back view

© By the author. Read Copyright.

Ivan Barnett, creative director of Patina Gallery in Santa Fe, opens In the Garden & Beyond the Sky on Friday, May 12, 2017. Barnett combines abstract shapes with the representational forms of the people, plants and animals that might move around the garden. As he has for 40 years, Barnett returns to his favorite materials, thin-gauged oxidized steel and a narrow range of primary colors.
Barnett, whose parents were artists outside Philadelphia, graduated from The University of The Arts in his hometown. At home and in the classroom, he gained an appreciation of art history and an awareness of art around the world. In 1976, he started making garden sculptures in his studio in rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where the folk art of the region influenced him deeply. He is one of the few living artists whose pieces can be found in the Girard Wing of the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe.

Barnett is donating a portion of the proceeds to the Nature Conservancy in support of Santa Fe Canyon Preserve, a peaceful refuge alive with songbirds and beavers, wildflowers and willows. This is the third time Patina has supported the organization through its exhibitions. Barnett sees a sweet juxtaposition in the fact the preserve is a serene, wild space place sitting only a short distance from the hustle and bustle of the Canyon Road arts district.

Beyond the Sky is Barnett’s first one-man exhibition in four years at Patina. He and his wife, Allison, opened Patina in 1999 as an international destination for contemporary fine art and handmade jewelry. Recently, he took time at his Santa Fe studio to discuss his latest works.

When and why did you start making garden sculptures, one of your signature works through the years?
Ivan Barnett: I started making sculpture for the garden, in about 1976, some 40 years ago. It started with my passion for the American handmade weather vane. My first garden pieces started out very primitive and reflective of Pennsylvania German iconography: birds, tulips, roosters and horses. I wandered the back roads of Amish Country four decades ago like Gauguin may have wandered the South Seas searching for a simpler time. The American primitive weather vane drew me in. It touched me to read that Picasso once celebrated the artistic quality of American weather vanes.

The Beyond the Sky series will combine abstract shapes with the representational, with only the use of a small handful of primary colors – chrome yellow, warm cobalt blue, Chinese red, warm white and burnt orange. The material used is the same material I have been using for almost half a century. I use thin-gauged steel that has been oxidized in the fields of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

You chose to donate a portion of sales to the Santa Fe Canyon Preserve. What’s your connection?
Barnett: I love New Mexico, dating back to the 1950s when I traveled here with my father. I feel a personal commitment to preserving the natural world around Santa Fe. In 1989, when I was working in Pennsylvania, I was influenced by the iconography of petroglyphs as primitive drawings, having to do with their importance as cultural symbols. I became aware of an effort in New Mexico to preserve petroglyphs. I wrote Stewart Udall, telling him I would make and sell jewelry in support of an effort he led to preserve sites in the Galisteo Basin.

That preservation of New Mexico’s natural wonders is the same kind of work the Nature Conservancy is trying to do with the Santa Fe Canyon Preserve.

The Canyon Preserve is one of the most enchanted parts of our entire City Different for me.
I recall roaming around Upper Canyon Road in 1976 with my father, on one of our many trips, looking for a family friend’s small studio. I had just started making garden pieces that same year in my Pennsylvania studio. The upper canyon is an important part of Santa Fe because it is where so many artists for a century have made their homes and studios.

Ivan Barnett, Sculpture "Beyond the Sky 4"
Front view

What’s new for your 2017 Beyond the Sky series?
Barnett: Lancaster County is where it all started, with those simple, small, weather-vaney pieces. I’ve gone from literal to not literal. My latest work is far from Pennsylvania German because the abstract shapes are more interesting to me now from a design standpoint.

I piece shapes together like a puzzle to create assemblages, rivet them into distinctive sculptures and paint them flat black. From even a short distance, the black makes the garden pieces appear as silhouettes, and as you draw closer, the human, animal and fish forms begin to take shape. What I like about making things black is that it makes the entire piece more a statement and not just a collection of individual shapes.

Lancaster County made a lasting impression on you as an artist. Why?
Barnett: I really like that I have maintained that connection because the place meant a lot to me. I like to go deep with subjects to get to the meaning.

There is something that gets inside us. You have to go there. You have to be there. Lancaster County is like that for me. Solitude is common trait among artists. The rural existence in the studio was serene – a great place to make art.

I love the material I first used in Lancaster County. Today I use only steel from Pennsylvania. I always I loved the oxidized steel. Years ago, I bought all these sheets of thin-gauged steel, and a friend there let me leave them in one of his fields. In 2016, I went back, packed six crates with sheets of steel totaling 1,400 pounds and shipped them to my Santa Fe studio.

How do your latest influences emerge in your new pieces?
Barnett: I always go back to the masters who inspired me, Calder, Miró and Demuth. So much today is part of an industry – codified, homogenized. When things – including art – become such a commodity, a thing loses some of its soul.

I am not driven to make a political statement or to make pieces that are popular. My art doesn’t need to be tied to what’s going on in the world. Great artists of the past are always going to influence artists. And when I think about the very nature of folk art or observe the Pennsylvania German folk artists, I know I am watching people who make art purely for the sake of art.

With my pieces, there is no planned narrative. Nor do I design around some preconceived idea. I try to start and let the piece build to its own narrative. I let the shape determine where it’s going to go. I follow no sketch. As I start to put these together, a state of flow takes over the process. I think a story begins to take shape.

What ignited your creative process as a young artist?
Barnett: After art school, I realized that the things I loved the most were shape and color. That’s really what excited me. I gravitated to folk art. The people who make folk art are those who use primitive talents to make beautiful things.

My first studio in rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was in a pump house on a Revolutionary-era farm just outside of the city of Lancaster. Lancaster County has a history of amazing folk art, and I found myself submerged in its history.

Being director of Patina Gallery is full time. How do you find balance or the discipline to go back onto the studio?
Barnett: In late 2016, I knew it was time to make things again. This studio is the place I feel most comfortable. A Mennonite friend said, “Ivan, I’m so glad you are doing this. That’s where your heart is.”

Still after 18 years at Patina, I try to balance the gallery and my own art and to make time for art.
There wasn’t a real hard plan from the beginning. But I have always known that if I did a good job at the gallery, there would be a space for me alongside the great artists of Patina. Art and the gallery overlap. I try to bring artistic nuance to staging the gallery. I want art to be beautifully placed. In the studio, I want to create designs that are beautifully placed.

About the author

Rob Dean has been Patina’s storyteller since 2015. A teacher, book editor and volunteer during his 25 years in Santa Fe, he published a book related to the city’s 400thanniversary in 2010. He has an MA in history and was a Santa Fe journalist for many years.