Ivan Barnett's "Circlings"

Ivan Barnett’s Mobiles: Circlings

Its hard not to notice the mobiles of Ivan Barnett, with their stark bold suspension of dark shapes hung dramatically like hovering blackbirds. They have a presence, an energy of contrast, drama and charm. Like all mobiles, they contain a literal balance of weight held together with a central line of tension, yet the works in Barnetts collection “Circlings” also have a very real visual balance, a symmetry that defines good design. Like beautifully laid out typography lifted off the page, the mobiles are composed utilizing the principles of design, a controlled construction, nothing is done without consideration. Held together delicately with fishing parts and dabs of super glue, the pigmented steel mobiles are heavier and longer than you might expect, some stretching to 60 inches.

Circlings 10 by Ivan Barnett

Circlings 10 by Ivan Barnett

Initially created on the floor of his garage, Barnett assembles each mobile piece by piece in a sort of masterful dance of give and take. Not unlike a poet or collagist, they are a work of parts, each element chosen and placed according to the laws of intuition and aesthetics. A little to the left, a little to the right, this piece here, no this piece here. Each shape in the mobiles is held in its own suspension, proving its own worth, for every piece is considered, adored, thought about and used on purpose, for without each piece in its place, the mobiles wouldnt work, perhaps both physically and visually.

Upon first glance, they appear to be made of black construction paper, but are in fact made of hand-cut steel then painted black. Black as sillhouettes. Homages to raw shape and nuance of form. These dark, organic figures give the mobiles an unpretentious surreal feel, reminiscent of folk art mixed with the starkness of a Rorschach inkblot. Think Alexander Girard or Jose Francisco Borges. The mobiles are unwaveringly graphic, bold, and simplistic in form. They are silhouettes of a story and undoubtedly have an innate narrative, although, Barnett admits he doesnt know exactly what the mobiles “mean” for he approaches their creation from an objective design standpoint without necessarily the intention of meaning or story. Nevertheless, the mobiles, like dancing shadow puppets, make a statement both loudly and quietly, a blending of contrasts that runs throughout the entire series of work.

Circlings 8 by Ivan Barnett

Circlings 8 by Ivan Barnett

Using subtle, abstract shapes, its obvious that Barnett gets inspiration from fauna. There are birds, bears, stones, circles, and rabbits, among others, all cut with scissors and without the precision of a ruler or the perfection of a drafted line. By creating the elements from the whim of his tools, Barnett is able to harmoniously balance out the perfection of their blackness and weight with a natural sense of imperfection. This gives the mobiles an accessible feel, a comforting realization that perfection on its own is really quite boring. After all, as Barnett stated in a talk given at Patina Gallery in Santa Fe, “in nature there is no such thing as a perfect straight line.”

He adds to this by utilizing an element of surprise. The unexpected is dabbled throughout the series, a vital touch to the pieces, for without it, wed be left wanting more, which shows Barnetts skill at making choices while in the midst of creation. By doing the unexpected, he is able to counteract the mobiles law of balance and symmetry with a rebelliousness, as in the placing of a rabbit upside down in “Circlings 8” or the little bird inside the stomach of a sideways human figure in “Circlings 10”.

This playful aspect of his work is impossible to ignore, for it resonates within human nature as a time of childhood, before we knew better, when imagination had no bounds, no right from wrong, and no perfection. And we celebrated it. Barnetts mobiles, like good poems or the mind of a child, do just that: celebrate the simple things in life.

It is within “Circlings” that whimsy, amongst carefully crafted proportion of structure and composition, is allowed to come out and dance from the ceilings – a wonderful spectacle of poetry and very fine design.

Ivan Bartletts Circlings is now showing at Patina Gallery in Santa Fe. December 3rd – 26th.

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