Bill Barrett

“The generic term for Barrett’s process, ‘automatism’, was very much in circulation during the period when Barrett was emerging as a young artist. A term that has been used to refer to both writing and visual art, it was commonly used in the 19th century, when automatic writing and drawing were what was done is séances led by mediums. By the 1920s, artists and writers interested in psychology believed that automatic words and images emerged from tapping the unconscious, both the personal and the collective and, in founding Surrealism, André Breton defined ‘Surrealism’ as “pure psychic automatism.” Essentially, practicing automatism is to work with little preconception of what one will create, with heavy reliance upon intuitive impulse. For many automatists, the process can be very lyrical and rhythmic, like a dance of sorts. Indeed, this may be what the late curator and critic William Rubin had in mind when he described Jackson Pollock’s creative process as automatism of the body.   Whether embarking on a sculpture or a painting, Barrett likes to begin with what he calls “doodling,” the same term used by Robert Motherwell for the automatic drawings that led to his renowned Spanish Elegies series, which he considered to come from “doodling on the scale of the Sistine ceiling.” Motherwell, many of his peers, and multitudes of artists working since the 1950s have placed high value on the authenticity of their spontaneous notations. As starting points for something more ambitious, these “thought forms” (to borrow a phrase popularized by Wassily Kandinsky) can come in mighty handy, as they are the seeds of potential from which the artist can develop something of greater magnitude or substance.”