The eclectic art of Matthew Barter pulls inspiration from Bowie, outer space, Downeast Maine, and lobstering . . . to name a few.
Paintings hang on the whitewashed walls of his gallery, the Barter Arthouse, depicting the stark wintry beauty of Downeast Maine. Preferring winter landscapes, he finds the contrasts more appealing than the myriad green tones in summer. “Before the snow comes, there is a beauty to the ground,” he says. “There are shades of ochres and reds in the grass, bushes, and trees, after the autumn colors burst.” The unpredictable weather of November and March in Maine inspire these scenes.
Having worked as a sternman, Barter’s paintings are influenced by lobstering as well. Taking an unusual approach to a profession long romanticized in Maine art, he focuses on the tasks of preparation. “Most of the work for lobster fishing is on shore, tending and prepping equipment, not landing the lobster,” he says. “That hard work gets overlooked. I want to show the lobster industry from start to finish.” Recently, an art show held at Senator Angus King’s office in Washington, D.C., featured Barter’s work amongst other Maine artists. One of his pieces, depicting two lobstermen repairing a boat, adorns the walls of the senator’s office.
While Barter’s paintings are tied to the Maine coast, some of his sculptures are inspired by gazing toward the sky. Barter is a “big space nerd.” Couple that love with his fanaticism for David Bowie, and the artist’s muse is unlimited. Sculptures depicting the lunar landing, astronaut helmet built from found parts, Barter envisions outer space through his work. “I geek out over the early NASA stuff. Looking back, a lot of it looked so sketchy,” he says. “The lunar lander, it looked like a tin can with satellite disks, a couple of weird looking feet, and gold foil.”
Ground Control Chair is a piece inspired by Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” A 1980s desk chair, it’s a mix between steampunk and modernism, a possible future Ray Bradbury might have predicted in 1950. “Ziggy Stardust, he brought you along for the ride,” he says, “and that’s what the artist does with their work.” In Barter’s imagination, this is the chair ground control sits in; can you hear me, Major Tom?
Bricolage sculptures are among Barter’s signature pieces. Larger-than-life heads, and arms sculpted from elbow to hand, are constructed from a myriad of materials. “What makes us human is what we are thinking,” Barter says, “what we are doing with our hands. Creating.” These dismembered sculptures embody his vision of humanity.
Slipping his hand inside one of the oversized arms, Matt pulls internal hidden cables. The fingers clench into a fist. Later, he puts on a mask, a mock Mickey Mouse. It’s gargantuan and looks as if Tim Burton resurrected Steamboat Willy, sewing him together like Jack Skellington. This is Matt Barter. An artist who takes the moment to ponder what makes us human, and then gives those thoughts in caricature proportions.