Intimacy & Realism
in Will Barnet's Early Prints
Central Park Siesta appears as the very first work in the catalog raisonné of Barnet's prints. Created in 1932 and printed in an edition of just six, this work was made when Barnet was just twenty-two-years-old and studying at the Arts Students League in New York. Barnet had previously studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, not far from his coastal hometown of Beverly, Massachusetts.
Barnet joined the Arts Students League in 1931, arriving in New York with ten dollars and a small portfolio of drawings of craggy seascapes and his cat. He rented a one-dollar-a-night room while attending the League and, after many years spent in the small, secluded town of Beverly, he feverishly sketched the ferment and static of the city as it was in the grips of the Great Depression.
Central Park Siesta captures Barnet's young, curious, outward-facing gaze—far different from the introspective, symbolist paintings of his mature work—as well as the influence of his mentor at the League, Charles Locke, and their mutual idol, the 19th century French artist Honoré Daumier. Both were most celebrated as printmakers and used social realism to depict scenes of pathos toward the working class and lambaste the political and bourgeois elite.
Barnet employs the historical style of his predecessors in Central Park Siesta, while also bringing an expressionistic lilt to an otherwise common scene of a man taking a nap on a park bench. Though he is often associated with moody, familial psychoscapes, Barnet often revisits the theme of "rest" throughout his work, as seen in portraits of his father from the 1930s and Summer Idyllic from 1976. Already apparent in this very early lithograph is Barnet's ability to instill intimate scenes with an underlying, engaging and mysterious dynamism—a characteristic that would come to dominate his later work and major paintings.
I began early to look at the things around me on the street and at home. I used to say to my class: You don’t have to go very far. If Vermeer could take a corner of the room and make a work of art, you don’t have to go to Spain or Africa. It’s right next to you, right here in this room.