Michael Barnes was born in 1969 in Michigan of the United States. He grew up outside the small town of Ithaca, where his family lived on a wooded plot in the midst of farmland. This wooded plot contained a 19th century family cemetery where he spent much of his youth playing and fostering his imagination for later ventures in his artistic life. He went on to receive his BFA from Alma College, Michigan in 1991 and his MFA from the University of Iowa in 1996, both with a focus on Printmaking.
Michael developed a passion for the medium of lithography during his graduate studies at Iowa and has focused on this process for much of his work since. His research seeks to document and retain traditional methods of this fine art printing medium, while investigating means of integrating them with new media. His art has been exhibited and has received awards in venues worldwide. His research and artistry have taken him to such places as Germany, France, Serbia, Belgium, Italy, China, Estonia, Poland, and New Zealand, and he was recently supported by a Fulbright Specialist Grant. Michael now resides in St. Charles, Illinois, near Chicago. He is the head of the printmaking area at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, where he is a recent recipient of the Presidential Research, Scholarship, and Artistry Professorship.
The Steindruck München Series
The recent series of lithographic prints created by Michael Barnes will be premiered in October at Brumfield Gallery in Astoria, Oregon. was begun during a residency at the Lithografiewerkstatt Steindruck München studio in the Münchner Künstlerhaus, Munich, Germany in 2018. The pieces began as the key black and white images and were developed in color over the following two years and just completed in September 2020.
The imagery of this series explores ongoing themes in Barnes’ work, which addresses, in part, the destructive nature and absurdities that so readily prevail for humankind, along with themes of mortality, morality, and the philosophical questions of existence in general. The images are concerned with environment, social decay leaning towards an inward and isolated path, and cynicism about the historical evolution of so-called civilization and its effects upon the world and its inhabitants.
The two-month period of working in the Altstadt of Munich brought new inspiration to this series. Daily walks through the city, its museums, and the beautiful Englisher Garten evoked images of daily life experiences and exploration and inevitably seeped into the imagery that he was developing during this period.
Additionally, a new theme emerged during this time exploring traditional folk lore. This was inspired by the stories and images of the Brothers Grimm, which came about during a trip into the Alps which passed through the small town of Oberammergau. In this town many of the houses are painted with murals (Lüftlmalerei) of traditional folk lore, scenes of Bavarian life and religious traditions.
On one of the homes was painted the mural of the four animals from Brothers Grimm’s “The Town Musicians of Bremen”. The animals are standing on each other’s backs in the famous scene where they all make their various calls and scare robbers from a farmhouse that was encounter on their path to Bremen. This encounter led Barnes to further explore these tales and in which he found many parallel themes to his own work.
In Barnes’ interpretation, “On the Road to Bremen” he embellishes the travels of the four animals, who stop to take a picnic outside of the farmhouse just after they have just scared off the robbers, (the town musician animals creatively altered in Barnes’ piece to reflect his own imagination and world of creatures). These tales, especially many of the older and original versions speak to many elements close to Barnes’s work in dealing with human nature and the ethics of life and morality, often in a rather dark manner. In this piece, he notes the point that unexpected experiences may happen on any life journey that may lead to a change in direction – in the case of the story, the animals, who all met originally by chance and shared life conditions, end up settling peacefully in the farmhouse they encountered and abandoning their original plan to moving to Bremen to be town musicians.