“Painting with respect for impulse, chance and choice allows a being to be, and to be interested in being.” - Barbara Vos
I first saw Barbara Vos’ work in 1992 in a show entitled “Absence of Proof” at Somar Art Gallery (recently renamed Somarts) in San Francisco, Ca. The exhibit also included Gustavo Rivera and David Miller’s work, but I was immediately struck by the energy and boldness in Vos’ work. One painting in particular grabbed my attention: a huge acrylic paper painting entitled, “Maiden Voyage” with ‘faster than a speeding bullet’ strokes of reds and blacks, dark forest and pure kelly greens and freedom—lots and lots of freedom.
Barbara Vos hadn’t been exploring abstract painting for long and one could sense the excitement of new in the huge paintings. The excitement was contagious as Kenneth Baker of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a glowing review followed by Union Square gallerist Brian Gross offering Vos gallery representation, from 1992 – 2004, I might add. Local girl made real good.
Barbara Vos grew up in the Brooklyn /New York City area. She didn’t have a chance of not being a painter or of at least exploring it, as she came from a long line of painters: both her parents, great aunts and uncles, painters all. Vos spent her early years hanging out in museums where she was affected by notables such as John Marin, Kandinsky, early Guston, Van Gogh, and Cezanne. Of Marin’s work, Vos says, “I recognized how I felt seeing a small and beautifully, delicately described watercolor.” Vos was hooked.
She started painting figuratively, (life drawing) at the age of twelve and fondly remembers enjoying working with glazes in her teens. Two years later Barbara Vos attended The New York Art Students League from 1966-1970 followed by the Minneapolis School of Art in 1971. Abstraction amid the influence of skyscrapers, massive networking of streets and so many people, didn’t come until much later. Vos, in hot pursuit, went on to graduate from the University of Connecticut in 1975.
In the late ‘80s Vos discovered that abstraction on paper was the vehicle with which she could best peel back the layers and expose the underbelly of her city and youth. “Figurative is prose while abstraction is musical”, said Vos. She found her ‘singing voice’ with which to express: “The long view across the East river to the Statue of Liberty and beyond, the tall buildings going into the sky and the tight network of streets and the people packed into them- elevators going down into the underground veins, the trains packed with people and more people.”
Less interested in a single idea and more with interpreting a collection of thoughts and moods, abstraction lends a song without words for Barbara Vos. Perhaps this is what sets her apart from other abstractionists; her pure painting wordlessness. While many painters have resorted to ‘bells and whistles’ in post modernism’s abstracted ‘decorative’ period to find footing in a bruised art form of the 1980’s and 1990’s, Vos has never deviated from her need to express herself sincerely in a straightforward manner through paint. She’s not looking for style and finish in her work, just a statement. An intuitive painter, Vos says, “Impulse and chance needs to be in the movement of the body, not filtered through the mind. There has to be a separate channel.” Perhaps that’s why Vos prefers working very large, to allow the body’s full expression when painting. Mark Rothko called it ‘an intimacy’.
Residing in San Francisco, Ca. since the ‘80s, in 1993, Barbara Vos was awarded a residency with the coveted Djerassi Artist-In-Resident program in Woodside, California. It was a month long hiatus, allowing the artist to work in a different environment in the production of new work. During this period one of the more successful paintings Vos produced was “Red Spirit”, an acrylic painting on paper with a web of Vos’ best edgy strokes, forest greens set against an all white background with a lone red spiral placed center low with red strokes escaping upward.
Vos is back at her easel after a few years of hiatus. She says she is now only working with acrylics and is learning to use them differently. Vos says, “When I use oils I am building, when I paint with acrylic I am free.” It’s a challenge to incorporate both but a challenge that Vos is up to. Her paintings resist simple definition and as is nature’s wont, they refuse to be contained. Kansas City will be the recipients of Barbara Vos’ new paintings, her first solo exhibit in six years, at the Cara and Cabezas Contemporary in Kansas City, Missouri. Her one woman show will include six large paintings, all on paper, with acrylic her medium.
Spring + Fed (partial)
Barbara Vos was the recipient of the Merceldes Eicholz Fellowship in 1994 and the Nea/WESTAF Regional Fellowship in 1996. Vos’ work is in the Morgan Flagg Collection shown at the De Young Museum of Art in San Francisco, Ca, the Bay Area Art from the Morgan Flagg collection, and also the Di Rosa Preserve permanent collection in Sonoma, California. Selected exhibits: The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, Ca; Mills College in Oakland, Ca.; Sonoma State University, Ca. and Palo Alto Cultural Center, Palo Alto Ca.