Comic Yet Painful Situations

Fables of the Fabulous (The Idiots), mixed media on linen, done by Thomas Barker, on display at the McCormack Building Harbor Art Gallery until December 10. - Photo by Shaun Krisher

Fables of the Fabulous (The Idiots), mixed media on linen, done by Thomas Barker, on display at the McCormack Building Harbor Art Gallery until December 10. – Photo by Shaun Krisher

MiMi Yeh

The Harbor Art Gallery brings yet another show of the interestingly odd. I first encountered Fables of the Fabulous (The Idiots) during the annual juried student show held in the spring of 2003. Painted by Thomas Barker, it shows his characteristic style of visually busy and oddly eccentric reminiscence of surrealism. Running until December 10, the subject of this show is “comic yet painful situations.” Originally, I mistook the painting used as being oil instead of mixed media because it was painted on linen, which gives a smoother, less textured look to the painting.

Barker, a philosopher here at UMB, seems to have a running obsession with cultural motifs, placing tribal-esque headdresses on various figures throughout his paintings. Each work has a theme that is almost secondary to the amount of visual action occurring within the piece, yet that’s what makes it so interesting, the seemingly endless collage of thoughts and designs rampaging on the surfaces.

With The Lovers, Barker has two canvases of a man and a woman done in stark black and white acrylic. The figures are facing each other, but their expressions are anything but affectionate. The woman has her hands clasped as if she’s about to go to sleep yet her eyes seem repulsed by the man facing her on the neighboring picture. There is an ocean of negative space between them as they are pushed as far to the opposite edges of the canvases from one another as they can get.

Proof It’s Impossible to Live is a rather macabre depiction of a stabbing victim splayed out while the knife-wielding murderer stands above staring blankly and an impassive crowd looks on. Off to the left, an ethereal-looking apple tree drops a fruit or two. Any number of human figures stand or pose within his paintings appearing to care about little or none of what is going on. It is that glassy, dispassionate stare that is a little unnerving in the face of all that happens.

However, the work that dominates the room is not one canvas, but two, that depicts a panoramic view from the balcony of a stony, columned structure in Untitled, a mixed media piece. A woman looks out at the viewer and not the crowd below and the play on perspective continues onto a bridge with a platform. A lone man hangs curled in a fetal position, holding onto the rope he hangs from for dear life. That is the clearest, most intricate part of the painting, tucked away into the upper left corner, out of the reaches of the viewer’s gaze, easy to miss upon the first glance. This particular work is still unfinished. One can only wonder what will happen next. In Barker’s universe, anything is possible.

In the back corner of the gallery resides Collection of Drawings where Barker mixes various sketches of birds and dragons so that we can see the graphic evolution of a mutant creature incorporating colorful hues of scales with a feathery, avian personality. He continues with his bird patterns in a series of drawings spanning the furthest wall of the gallery.

Stop by the Harbor Art Gallery, located on the first floor of the McCormack building, across from the Science Center, and see this visually engaging exhibit.