This recent show of Robert Baribeau’s colorful, richly textured abstract compositions at first appeared as an amalgam of postwar painting styles. At points in his career, Baribeau, born in Aberdeen, Wash., in 1949, and now based in upstate New York, has employed elements of Ab Ex, Pop, Color Field and Neo-Expressionism. However, the 24 large and medium-size canvases and oil-on-paper works in this lively, three-decade survey avoid a feeling of pastiche, and the allusions merge into a unique aesthetic.
The earliest pieces here, a series of large untitled canvases from the 1980s, featured layers of slashing brushstrokes and splattered pigment in vividly contrasting hues. Dense and intense, the paintings call to mind the gesturalism of de Kooning. Baribeau, who has a background in landscape architecture, anchors each composition with an underlying structure of loosely defined geometric forms. One outstanding untitled work (60 by 48 inches)—a palimpsest of irregular rectangles, triangles and circular shapes in red, pink, orange, yellow and blue—hints at a classic Cubist landscape, albeit one heightened with rather raucous hues.
In his best works of the 1990s, Baribeau favors allover compositions filled with feverish layers of graffiti-like scrawls, collage elements and patches of unmodulated color, the surface overlain with spare networks of rough-hewn black lines. Dominating the lower portion of a four-panel, untitled piece (the show’s largest, at over 8 feet square) are crude renderings of abstracted flowers and other organic forms, plus collaged paper rectangles with black-and-white polka dots. Above, a gray expanse resembling a concrete wall bears thick black markings, suggesting a prehistoric pictograph whose significance is now obscure.
Baribeau’s paintings of the past decade are his strongest. A striking untitled work from 2008 (64 by 84 inches) evokes a Romantic landscape. The lush and nuanced surface, with horizontal swaths of pink, blue and white in the upper portion, suggests a balmy country sky. This area contrasts with the gritty and cacophonous section below, which has a decidedly urban feel. Perhaps the most impressive work on view, Field 87 (2007), is a hyper-energized composition that seems to convey an explosive incident, such as a race-car pileup. A thick, Prussian blue band traversing the width of the canvas could be a high horizon line, separating an ominous gray sky from the tumult below. Here, thick, colliding slabs of white and red paint, and splashes of blood red, black, orange and white, nearly obliterate collaged patches of black-and-white checkerboard fabric, which recalls a finish-line flag. As the culminating pieces in the survey, these relatively recent works indicate an exciting new direction for Baribeau.