By isolating the basic components of painting — line, surface, gesture, color — Martin Barré produced a body of work that is unique in the history of abstract art. At the beginning of his career, he abandoned gestural expressionism and replaced it with his own systems-based compositional methods. Barré said of his paintings, “Seriality is the means of producing them. It is not so much the paintings that make the series as the series that produce the paintings.” This pioneering approach anticipated and influenced some of the most innovative painting of the last sixty years.
In the 1950s Barré gave up using paintbrushes, first by applying paint with only a palette knife and then by squeezing it directly from the tube. In 1963, inspired by graffiti he had seen in the Paris Métro, he began a series of spray paintings on canvas. In the early 1970s he returned to using brushes, embedding each composition in layers of transparent washes with subtle colors traversed by a penciled grid implying a much larger, potentially infinite composition. He continued exploring the possibilities and limitations of painting into the 1980s and 1990s, arranging colorful polygons on modular grids according to a system both strict and playful. Paradoxes like this are central to Barré’s art. As he said in a 1974 interview, “Without contradictions, without paradoxes, would there have been an evolution of painting, and without evolution would there be painting?”
Martin Barré (1924–1993) exhibited his work regularly throughout Europe from the mid-1950s onward. His paintings were included in the 1961 Carnegie International in Pittsburgh and the 1964 and 1978 Venice Biennales. The Musée des Beaux Arts de Nantes organized a career retrospective in 1989, and in 1993 his paintings from the 1980s were the subject of an exhibition at the Jeu de Paume in Paris. In 2020 the Centre Pompidou in Paris organized his first posthumous retrospective exhibition.