Bo Bartlett: Still Point


by Helen Ashton Fisher



Bo Bartlett at mid-career looks back on a body of work that is virtuosic in its technical brilliance and epic in its narrative complexity and power. Over the last decade he has moved away from social and political commentary and toward a more spiritual and uni-versal message. In his more recent paintings Bartlett is saying more with less. Figures are generally less numerous in his compositions and often depicted in juxtaposition to the sea. In paintings such as Bone (2000) and Manasseh (2001) where the central figure is posed against a background of sea and sky we are reminded of the power of nature and the fragility of man in this vast cosmos. Bartlett confirms nature as the ever-present qualifier against which all things must be measured and which will ultimately claim each one of us.

While a few of his works like Chef (2001) and Lobster Wars (2007), are lighthearted and whimsical most, like the sensitive portrait of Sara (2001), and the touchingly awkward young girl in The Way (2001) have a purposeful gravity and a serene beauty. The figures often engage the viewer with an almost accusatory glare as though demanding that we accept this gift of beauty for our own salvation. In an interview with Suzi Gablik Bartlett talked about a conversation he had with his dying brother in 1988. He said, "There's a slow turn in my work that began in the early 1990s toward imagery that is less angst-driven, less about the horrors of the world, and based more on his [brother's] directive -- my trying to find out what I knew he was talking about. Beauty."[1] Beauty, the intangible, subjective, irresistable force that seduces us even though we try to resist it, has been ignored and maligned by critics for nearly a century and humanity is suffering for it. The noted Jungian psychologist and philosopher James Hillman wrote:

If the cosmos itself implies beauty, if we live in an aesthetic world, then the primary mode of adjustment to the cosmos would be through the sense of beauty, the aesthetic response. For this reason alone, the repression of beauty has cosmic proportions. No wonder civilization is in disarray, and no wonder the terrible burden on the individual artist to find his or her way back to the innate demand that the cosmos places on an individual talent. We are each out of order and in need of therapy because we have forgotten that life is essentially aesthetic, cosmologically so.[2]

Bo Bartlett's art demonstrates this thesis, that beauty is fundamental and that life is es-sentially aesthetic. His mesmerizing paintings compel us to feel something -- beauty demands an emotional response -- attraction, awe, admiration, or could it actually be love? From "turning point" to "still point" we are privileged to share Bartlett's creative journey made manifest through this inspired body of work.


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