1.1 / Review

The Lesser Light

By Mary Anne Kluth October 29, 2009

Through the paintings in "the lesser light", Barnaby Furnas examined the psychological effects of ecstatic public ritual from three perspectives: the performer, the pageantry and the immersive group experience.

Motörhead, 2009

Motörhead, 2009; colored pencil, golden acrylic with water-dispersed pigments on linen; 60 x 84 inches.

In two intimate acrylic and colored pencil portraits, Furnas depicted KISS’ drummer Peter Criss with half-closed eyes having a satisfied, post-show smoke, still in full make-up and costume, sticks in hand. The resulting paintings were more portraits of a persona—of costume and posture in a situation–than specific biographical instances. The chrome studs on Criss’ leather vest were methodically, fastidiously rendered, as were his crucifixes and matching earring. But the marks composing Criss’ ironically made-up face, skin, and hair were loose and smudged, as though the canvas itself had gone though the orgiastic athleticism of a KISS performance, and come out the other end spent, but exalted.  The economically depicted stage lights—hot white spots that occasionally seem to melt into the drummer’s skin—were made with pigment loose enough to conjure the humidity of an arena crowd.

Furnas created scintillating pattern first, figure and ground relationships second. He emphasized ritual costume in five watercolor and dye drawings of Philadelphia’s Mummers, traditional parade performers that celebrate the New Year.  In buzzing complementary color schemes, the performers optically merged with each other and the field in which they were embedded. One particular pattern that emerged looks like the Evil Eye, a graphic motif that crosses cultural boundaries. It is typically deployed to ward off bad luck or evil spirits, regardless of the dominant religious context. Mummers Day III (Quaker City Ramblers) (2009) was so embedded with these almond shaped, black-pupil spots that the painting seemed to look back

at the viewer with primeval agency. Patterned stage decorations and Marshall amps in My Bloody Valentine (2009), a larger work depicting a three-piece rock band on stage, echoed this concentric eye arrangement and thrum with visual energy.

In the larger mixed media paintings of arena rock performances, Furnas repeated marks to depict the hands of the audience and the musicians, the lighter flames, the disco gradient, and the lighting grids, producing a strobe-like effect and referencing the repetitive nature of ritual. The hot pinks and oranges heightened the color and the otherworldly effect of stadium lights. Framing the images were ejaculate-like spumes of water-dispersed pigment that characterized the scene as one of regenerative catharsis, not localized in any particular performer or audience member, but in the group as a whole.

Mummers Day III (Quaker City Ramblers), 2009

Mummers Day III (Quaker City Ramblers), 2009; colored pencil, watercolor and dye on Twin Rocker Calligraphy Cream paper; 30 x 22 inches.

The works in the show were somewhat disparate, falling into easily divided categories based on the materials and approach used for depiction. Taken together as a group, though, they wove threads of the physical experiences, the mass social settings, and the quasi-spiritual intuitions at play in elaborate human rituals. The larger impression they formed intimated that potentially irreconcilable erotic and transcendental urges—the need to be fully in one’s body and the need to surpass it—can at least be acknowledged through absorption into public spectacle.

"the lesser light" was on view at Anthony Meier Fine Arts through October 9, 2009.


Mary Anne Kluth is a painter and writer who lives and works in San Francisco. She holds an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, and has written for Artweek and online at Shotgun Review, amongst others. She has recently shown at MISSION17 and Frey Norris Gallery in San Francisco.

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