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Christine Barbe


Tim Millard
« French flavor »

Tim Millard. « French flavor ». Magazine Valley News. Los Angeles. 2006

Christine Barbe first emerged on the US art scene in the mid 1980’s as part of several group shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Francisco and San Jose, CA.  This was quickly followed up with a solo show at Gallery 30 in San Francisco in 1987.  Barbe was quickly recognized for her outsider’s view of California culture, her scintillating scenes of leisure drawing from her background in illustration and engraving, the snapshots of pool halls and swimming pools teeming with stark whites surrounded by dazzling color and lightning strike energy.  This “California Period” was followed by a move to New York where she painted the chaos and isolation of the city’s teaming masses, a mosaic of signs and people and the very streets they stood on.  This urban expressionism showed less leisure and more isolation, the chaotic energy of New York a contrast to the previous carefree scenes of the west coast.  Her increasing popularity instigated a move back to France in 1990 and another change in subject matter.   With the newfound freedom she had gained in America, Barbe turned her gaze to scenes of French life and leisure, returning to a more graphic style incorporating her early training in etchings and engravings.  

Barbe’s work is best known for depicting the outward manifestation of real-life pop culture, her work a synthesis of the billboard style of Pop Art and the subjectivity of the Expressionists and their figurative aesthetic.  Barbe’s work has always featured a constant dialogue between painting, drawing and monotype.  Scenes appear to be taken straight out of the middle of a story through the viewfinder of a camera and transcribed into a strictly organized system of line, surface, light and color, as if the light is eating away all shapes or figures or landscape.    Her vivid reflections of the banality of pop-culture are reminiscent of Raoul Dufy or David Hockney, and yet manifest a less cheerful, more ominous tone of isolation.  The use of glittering light and the choice of mostly harsh, almost toxic colors mix with the loose, swift execution which is so typical in her work and reflect her interest in style over motif.

Barbe’s new work is marked by her characteristic combination of drawing and painting mixed with more photographic and graphic techniques, depicting in an autobiographical way her immediate surroundings.  The creative process usually starts with a deliberately non-classical snapshot of contemporary scenes of leisure with their particular rites and habits, acts of celebration, and intimacies amongst friends and family.  She has lived in a castle in France for about 4 years and found the very special atmosphere of this spot to hold a great narrative potential: extended visits with friends, dinner parties, all of the rituals of life contained within the historical context provided by her surroundings.

Barbe was born in Grenoble, France.  Since graduating with a degree in Art and Cinema from St. Charles University in Paris, Barbe has traveled extensively around the world, including North Africa, Antilles, and Eastern Europe. She has been featured in Museum shows in France, at the museum of Modern Art of Grenoble, at Espace Ricard and Couvent des Cordeliers (Paris), in Japan at the Modern Museum of Art and private galleries, and in the USA at the San José Museum of contemporary Art and numerous private galleries.

Tim Millard