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Wander Off

Who Am I? Exhibition

Published onAug 24, 2020
Wander Off

Wander Off, 2006
William Barnes (American, b. 1958)
Egg tempera on board
Purchased with funds provided by Wayne and Annette Rowley. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

 Artist’s Interpretation

My pictures (and they are pictures, not “works” or “pieces”) do not spring from some wordy philosophy or theory. Simply put, they are simple. With only one exception, all of them have come from times and places of complete quiet; no humans exist, except, possibly, as unseen ideas or shadows. Their presence is there; they’re either about to appear or have just left or are just out of sight enough so as to not “exist.”

Beyond this point I think very little about my work. I guess it’s just intuitive. To paraphrase Edward Hopper, “if you could say it in words there would be no reason to paint it.”

William Barnes


My mother warned my sister-in-law before we traveled to Italy: “Valerie will disappear.” I have always walked away from a group without pausing for thought when something attracts my attention, but never to disappear – just to discover. I remember being at the State Fair in Wisconsin as a young child and turning to look at whatever it was, and turning back to find my family had disappeared. I saw only legs around me, but stood still until my father found me. Such security! Knowing that if I stand still someone will find me. I can wander off now because that early security means that I will never be lost.

Barnes' painting doesn't feel bleak to me; the layers of grays open to a mysterious darkness that is welcoming rather than frightening. There is a bit of frozen fruit in the foreground to anchor us to the here and present, but it is too small to keep me there.

Wandering off, to me, means going forward, not automatically returning to the known and comfortable. As an artist, I work in a controlled environment to create and then recreate an experience for an audience, but that is not my adventure, it is my job. My adventure includes seeing new things, new places, encountering new experiences, making new work. In my travels I know that I will never be at that particular time and place again and if I pass something by, it will be gone to me. Wandering lets opportunities present themselves for my selfish enjoyment.

Valerie Williams
Choreographer, dancer, potter


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