Putting some ideas into practice

A busy few days has seen the central panel of the picture mounted in one of the bays of the gallery. Visitors may easily see the progress.

The central panel 8′ x 4′ will form the centre of a larger picture that may take its place on the ceiling of the gallery.

Its subject is the 20th century, leading to the enlightenment that is displayed on the north wall. It is a mystery that men who have behaved so badly can still have any redeeming features at all.

Copyright Bernard Barnes

I am planning to add a ring of events surrounding the inner chaos. Events of momentous proportions, the wars, the great characters, the arts and cultural references. My original hurricane shape based on the vortex I am thinking of bearing the multiple images.

Copyright Bernard Barnes

Throughout the images I am looking for small bubbles of tranquility where I can paste a small scene, an aside, a reference that together will all the rest paint a summary of a momentous century.

Copyright Bernard Barnes

You may be able to see from these pictures that I have cut boards that fit around the edge of the central picture. It will be made up of pieces that I will fit together on the wall, but which I can work on separately on the easel.

I am also beginning to adapt the central image, adding new ideas to fit the theme. I have been experimenting with an optical illusion that can be built out from the surface of the picture to give the illusion of an inner recession.

Copyright Bernard Barnes

Here I am interested in suggesting the receding streets of fear exploited by Giorgio de Chirico in the surrealist paintings and it does add to the tension of the work.

St John's Hall Gallery Exhibition poster to end June 2017

Resident Artists’ Exhibitions

The new arrangement of the gallery has exhibitions of work by Bernard Barnes (Fragments of Barmouth and Devon), Reyna Rushton, Alyosha Barnes and Sasha Barnes. Also, until the end of June, there is a bay including paintings by Bernard and Alyosha influenced by the refugee crises, and a graffiti wall to add your art and words.

Exhibition at St John's Hall Gallery, Alyosha Barnes
Alyosha Barnes resting after putting up his exhibition

A catalogue of the Fragments of Devon collection by Bernard Barnes is available to buy from Amazon, more information about the pictures from that collection is available on his website, and prints of the Fragments of Devon collection and some of Barmouth pictures are available to buy from Redbubble.

Private View: Jon George Exhibition

This is the private view of the exhibition that is in the gallery from 4th – 30th September Paintings and Prints by Jon George. The private view is really a chance to get together, in a party atmosphere with refreshments and music, to preview the exhibition and meet the artist. All are welcome.

Announcing the Big Chill Out Exhibition by Christine Dymond

Christine painting one of her designs
Christine painting one of her designs

The Big Chill Out Exhibition by Christine Dymond will be open 11am to 4:30pm every day (except Mondays when closed), from Tuesday 5th July to Sunday 31st July 2016. Examples of Chris’ exquisite designs, featured in her Big Chill Out Colouring Book, coloured by the artist using a variety of media will be on display. Prints available to buy. Private view Sunday 3rd July at 7:30pm, please come.

Read more…

The Sleeping Rabbi

This detail from the first of 3 panels concerned with the Semitic Myths. This first one is concerned with the founding myth of the Jews, the description in Hebrew of the creation, the story of the delivery from Egypt, the burning bush and the tablets of law, etc.

The old Rabbi sleeps, dreaming his foundation myths, clinging to the scroll on which the Pentateuch is written.

There is much to be done yet, but the idea seems to have been established. It needs working out in a series of developments.sleeping-rabbi-1

The two subsequent panels will depict a sleeping Christian, maybe an iconic type figure, and a Dreaming Mullah (maybe Rumi). Each will share the same scroll as the three religions do, written in three languages.

Some details from Gobekli Tepe

I received, with the last post, a copy of Klaus Schmidt’s book on Golbeki Tepe, containing more images of the site than I had seen before. This days painting used a photograph from the image on the cover of the book, of a group of birds.

It is characteristic of a lot of the carvings. Low relief, stylisation, simplicity, the world of a hunter gatherer.


The little reference to this decorated pillar is hung in a structure made from the arbitrary passing particles through the picture plane.


The ’tile’ is hung in a part of the knee along with other blank tiles, which I will endeavour to fill.


In an attempt to create a compendium of all that is known (by me at this time) within the structure of this painting.


At the same time I am trying to introduce the elements of the sleeping figure as figments of a dream, the mythic dream.


As I look at the photographs of the pillars, I have noticed that many of them have strange pits carved into the tops of them. It appears to me that these depressions may have contained ritual oils, burning offerings etc. These outer stones were embedded into a surrounding wall which helped to give access to the top of the stones, from the outside of the inner shrine. Each stone could have been an alter stone, served from outside, perhaps forming a ‘chapel’, to whatever particular deity the stone represented (for each was a figure identified by particular animals and symbols).

The two great inner stones and the surrounding others (often 12 in number) suggest a pantheism to me. Clan cults connected with animals may be in the mix.


When I wandered around Turkey looking at the ancient sites outlined in Mellart’s book ‘the Neolithic of the Middle East’ I visited Chatal Huyuk and Hacilar and saw the major collection in the Ankara museum, and was very struck by the way the story of our beginnings had once again been pushed unbelievable far back, to 7000 BC. It was from studying Mellart’s beautiful book (now in tatters) that I learned the term ‘epi-palaeolithic’ and the possibility of neolithic communities approaching the size of a city.


Now it is evident that complex religious societies had existed during the ice age (we knew that from Lascaux and the magdelanean culture) and when they emerge into our consciousness at Gobekli Tepe they are a complex people with a sophisticated mythology, a mythology we can tantalizingly glimpse as the great stones are unearthed in their virtually pristine state. These people, 5000 years earlier than Chatal Huyuk, were not farmers but hunters, finding themselves living in a time of overflowing resources as the climate of the earth changed from ice to fecundity and forest. Abundant wildlife and wild plants (it is the fertile crescent) may have made living easier, as it did for some neolithic Indian communities in North America who lived beside a fertile sea. Whatever is the truth, these extraordinary ancestors were able to spare time to reflect on the universe, on the great questions of human existence. They formed a world-view, they had a comprehensive way of understanding a capricious universe, and a quasi system for modifying it, probably controlled by a priesthood. The priesthood may have worn a topknot (symbolizing a snake), as many Indian monks do to this day.

Progress with the first board of the first Mythic Dreamer. The Dreamer of Gobekli Tepe

The drawing for the first panel has begun.

A board was covered in dark paint – oil paint straight from the tube, spread thinly all around.

The canvas on a stretcher frame holds it slightly away from the paint.

A drawing has been done on the back – a days work, working swiftly, pushing the canvas against the painted board to pick up a line of paint.

The board and the canvas has been separated.

The Canvas drawing
The Canvas drawing

The canvas drawing is very rough and complex, with places where the intricate line has been obliterated. This is no problem to the next stage on developing this piece, the main work is now with the image scribed onto the dark board. This is one of the first three boards that will go on the ceiling.

Sgraffito on the head
Sgraffito on the head

The drawing, acting as a guide, was a faint line, that needed etching, dragging along a petal point large enough to remove the dark painted surface the reveal the white underpaint. This is a method of image making called sgraffitoing, and is used commonly in pottery decoration.

Detail of a sgraffittoed area
Detail of a sgraffittoed area
Sgraffitoing can only be done while the upper surface remains leather hard and malleable. There came a time when that first stage of drawing resembling wood cuts or engravings, came to an end. I then found that the surface still enabled a kind of etching or scratching technique enabled me to develop some of sophisticated laying devices (chiaroscuro) while retaining the dreamlike sensibility induced by the irregular scratching.
Then, when the surface became too dry I was able to begin painting. I can now apply white paint to the surface, and it is not distorted and tinted by the underpaint. This enables the whole array of trickery open to the artist when playing with paint.
I have become intrigued by the funerary clues that enable us to piece together the rites and myths of these ancestors from Gobekli Tepe. The culture seemed to be obsessed with the image of the vultures, the undertakers, the consumers of all flesh, the purifiers, who knows. All we have are the great birds picking at the carcases, dismembering head from body. There seems to have been two towers, one for the head and the other for the body, and a carnal house below. This image has actually been taken from a wall painting in Catal Huyuk 5000 years later than Gobekli Tepe, it is thought be to culturally or racially linked. The snakes, spiders and birds likewise interweave with the dreams of this ancient dreamer, in this ancient place, just after the departure of the great ice sheets and the arrival into a land like paradise. 
The tribe,  clan, or people who built these extraordinary temples then buried them. They were not intended to be seen in their own day. They were left there for some future event. What event was that. When they would be uncovered perhaps? Or were they graves, shrines, to be kept safe by being buried. Who knows?
It is all an intriguing mystery, perhaps the symbols they used can speak for themselves, but they must be examined carefully. 
Bernard Barnes