Friends and Strangers:
New paintings by Philomena Franca Barba and Jeff Hunter at Piante
This month, Eureka's Piante gallery presents two distinct takes on portraiture from local artists Philomena Franca Barba and Jeff Hunter.
Barba's exhibition of new paintings, "Face Value," has some stylistic similarities with her previous work (some backgrounds still incorporate collage, sewn elements, stenciling, and repeated patterns)with one important exception. "With this group, I focused less on drawing and more on painting," said Barba. Where in the past, Barba may have chosen to represent the figure loosely in pen and ink, her new work explores a more painterly and colorful approach while also furthering her patterning and stenciling techniques. She strives to do more than just capture physical attributes of her subjects. "These are portraits. They're portraits of people that I know and who are part of my community, but there's also a narrative component," she explained. "I take what I know about each person and then use that as a starting point for what kind of imagery I want. Pattern, background—it is relevant to the models, part of their unique story," Barba said. "I use these elements to re-create their story, a way of commemorating them."
While Barba's portraits incorporate whatever's necessary to communicate individuality, Hunter's approach is more restrictive. What's the least visual information necessary to portray individuality? Hunter is looking for the answer. "Everything I do is based on line drawing, simplification, and gesture," Hunter said. "For this show, I've been applying gestural line work to spray painting. Basically, drawing with paint." Most of the acrylic and spray paint portraits in Hunter's exhibition, "Linework," start as small, quick sketches of patrons in coffee shops. The paintings develop out of enlarged projections of these sketches. For Hunter, as soon as he's captured aspects that convey person, personality, and moment (shape of nose, hat, posture) the work is done. "I want people to question whether it's enough," Hunter said. Staying true to his mission of simplification, Hunter's backgrounds are monochromatic and unadorned, pushing viewers to consider how color impacts responses to the figures. The portraits are done on salvaged plywood and the surface character enhances the backgrounds. Drips and overspray provide a sense of immediacy and help capture in the final product the energy of the making.