Shaping space

Shaping space


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Arts Lives and Exhibitions


Barbara Warren’s work, rather than startling or imposing on the eye, invites the spectator to come in, writes Hilary Pyle

Half way through her career, Barbara Warren (1925-2017) was invited to contribute a self-portrait to the National Self Portrait Collection in Limerick, which she took on as a personal challenge. She regarded herself as a landscape artist, used to standing back from her subject matter, but later she wrote: ‘In making this self-portrait, I was unable to control the level of my involvement as much as I would have liked.‚’ She added, with the wry humour that haunts her painting, ‘If I had not regarded it as a challenge, the picture would probably not have been finished.‚’

She was satisfied with the picture as a likeness and believed it worked as a composition, ‘but it is a partial failure in that it shows no sign of the struggle involved in its conception and completion‚’. In her own words, the portrait was ‘an arrangement of shapes in space, their position in depth emphasised by the light and distance glimpsed through the window. The strong rectangular shapes that contrast with the lines of the figure are a compositional device that comes naturally to me and the commedia dell’arte mask might be said to perform a similar function to a currach in a Connemara landscape or a piece of driftwood in a corner of a still life.‚’

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