"David Barr: Back Forty," at the Dennos Museum Center [in Traverse City, MI] explains [Barr's] roundabout approach to achieving realism and the lofty spiritual aims it serves. Stressed in the exhibit are rationalizations that fans of the Oakland County artist/ educator have understood for years: that patterns in nature dictate the placement of nonobjective elements in Barr's works; and that the patterns, revealed, are the contours of earthly life.
The above may impress some as New Age hooey. But extraterrestrials and Atlantis have no place in Barr's art. Instead, his sculptures derive from the structural composition of natural phenomena.
Further, Barr uses formulas long employed by visual artists to apprehend natural patterns: the logarithmic spiral, a figure describing helical growth; the golden section, a system of proportion wherein the smaller part of a divided line relates to the larger part as the larger part relates to the whole; and the Fibonacci series, in which each number in a progression is the sum of the two number preceding it.
Using these devices to organize abstract compositions, Barr produces art that's visually stimulating and spiritually uplifting. Viewing it, visitors will learn to appreciate patterns of growth, decay, and regeneration.
Barr's more ambitious "Global Projects" are conceptual pieces that sometimes include imagery. However, the magnitude of the projects, realized in far-flung corners of the world, overshadows abstract/ realistic distinctions.
"Arctic Arc" comprises two identical sculptures, erected on opposite sides of the Bering Strait, in Siberia and Alaska. Constructed of metal, wood and rope, the sculptures evoke a bird, a boat and a hand extended in friendship. "Arctic Arc" marks the spot where the first prehistoric peoples migrated from Asia into the Americas.
Barr's more sweeping "Four Corner's Project" consists of an imaginary tetrahedron, inside the earth, the figure's four corners piercing New Guinea, South Africa, Greenland and Easter Island. Positioned at each location is a marble tetrahedron, 4 inches tall.
"Synergy" is a meditative space, where visitors can explore changing spatial, textural and color relationships. Visitors can also consider Barr's impressive achievement, as revealed by the retrospective. Most important perhaps, visitors can contemplate and gain strength from Barr's realist vision.