Earthly Matters

An exhibit of recent works by 67-year-old, Georgia-born Bo Bartlett long known for his blending of realism and surrealism, comes to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Jacksonville on May 26. Organized by the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, South Carolina, and curated for MOCA by Senior Curator Ylva Rouse, the exhibition presents a selection of Bartlett’s works continuing his exploration into human interaction with the natural world. His larger-than-life scenes are inspired by personal experience, current events, and the landscapes of his homes in Maine and Georgia. 

An American realist painter and filmmaker, Bartlett is known for his large-scale narrative paintings that embrace his southern upbringing and gothic sensibility through deeply personal subject matter. Bartlett is a classically trained painter and employs a mix of figurative realism and the surreal in his works, continuing the tradition of American Realists like Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper, and Thomas Eakins, with a clear thread of Surrealist influence. 

Bartlett’s luminous figurative works offer just enough context to be relatable, while leaving the viewer with a sense of mystery and the opportunity to fill in the blanks of the story based on their personal experiences. He sets his figures in stark outdoor settings, at once familiar and indefinable. You immediately recognize the setting but need a few more details to accurately place the specific location. It is much the same with his figures—idealized forms in familiar settings, engaged in activities that leave the viewer wondering. The sense of mystery and slight unease is heightened by a direct stare, a figure just slightly out of place, or a detail that makes you ask yourself what precisely what is going on. His celebration of the everyday and commonplace is presented with an uncanny, dreamlike tone that produces psychological tension, a sense of unease, and an opportunity for introspection. 

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Author: Arbus

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