America is notorious for judging people based on the color of their skin, with financial, educational, romantic, medical, judicial, and even fatal consequences ensuing. Celebrated artists like Kerry James Marshall and Amy Sherald have painted one way forward, establishing practices of detailed portraiture focused exclusively and recuperatively on black subjects. But there are other, stranger means, including those developed by Barber, a Detroit native who gave up on figuration but not humans. As seen in a solo show, Barber Paints People in Middle America, on view at the Hoff Family Arts and Culture Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa, his take on representation depends heartily on collage. We each of us comprise multitudes, and the array of colored and printed papers, book spines and pages, plastic bags, drink labels, and fabrics that Barber cuts and pieces together suggest as much. Though it is undoubtedly people that he depicts—an enormous bust of a woman, a parent and child, a gathered group—prejudgment is rendered moot, complexity is a formal given, and dialogue is warmly invited.
—Lori Waxman 2020-10-01 12:33 PM