Fantastical creatures populate the canvases of Athens artist James Barsness. His current exhibit at Ciné, which consists of three large-scale, mixed media paintings, opened on Friday, Aug. 21 with a reception. This was well-timed, as viewing his work proved to be the perfect prelude to watching Amy, the documentary directed by Asif Kapidia about singer Amy Winehouse, which is now showing at the independent movie theater.
Viewing Barsness’ painted demons set the stage for watching Winehouse’s inner ones on screen.
Barsness’ occasionally grotesque imagery and the video footage of Winehouse singing soulfully as her life spirals downward are both hard to keep your eyes off of. The turmoil depicted is just so strangely… pretty. You can’t stop looking, even though it hurts.
Barsness’ canvases include naked people wielding spoons, a stunningly colored dragon who perhaps doesn’t feel so well, an assortment of well-known superheroes (sometimes depicted in the drawing style of an average middle school boy), a large multi-armed figure with the head of an elephant and assorted vices. The works sometimes evoke Hieronymus Bosch; comic books, Hinduism and illuminations are also alluded to. All of the canvases have surprisingly beautiful surfaces which belie the sometimes disturbing subject matter. Rich layers of Bic pen, acrylic inks, glazes and gold leaf result in an alluring luminosity.
A crowd of Athenians turned out to celebrate with Barsness (though, sadly, there were only a handful of people present that evening for Amy). Lots of guests praised the paintings of the artist, whose work is in numerous significant collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art. Mike Landers, in describing his first experience seeing Barsness’ work at a “Buy Art” event at the Bottleworks many years ago, said, “ The first time I saw his work I was immediately in love with it.” A spread by Big City Bread added to the festivities, and the party extended well beyond its allotted two hours.
About the space, the artist said he was "very happy to be working with Pam Kohn and Carl Martin at Ciné on this project. I don't show work in this area much, and I love the idea that a person can go to a movie, enjoy a drink and look at a work of art all in a single outing."
Barsness’ exhibit is scheduled to remain on display through Tuesday, Sept. 22. Ciné director Pamela Kohn says, “We may keep it up a bit longer though because we have a horror series coming up.” Amy will be showing through Thursday, Aug. 27. For more information, visit athenscine.com.