‘Zak Barnes: At Home in Bazaar’ welcomes the weird

Andrew Shermoen

To embrace life’s incongruences is to be completely free. This is surely the thinking behind Mulvane Art Museum’s newest exhibit “Zak Barnes: At Home in Bazaar.”

The exhibition opened July 12 and closed Sept. 3. It highlighted the unique art style of Kansas native Zak Barnes.

Barnes’ collection of paintings detail the small town of Bazaar, Kansas.

“Bazaar is an odd mix of an ideal rural past with a modern and disjunctive present,” reads a press release from the Art Museum.

It is an odd surreal world that Barnes paints; a world of floating beer cans and dinosaurs finds itself mixed into the bad and the good sides of small town living in the rural Midwest. It mixes in the kind hospitality with the notably urbanized. It’s a beautiful and mind-boggling juxtaposition.

One of the most notable pieces is “Bazaar Monday,” an odd scene of women relaxing and having a picnic while beer cans spin through the air. While it is one of the least dramatic scenes in Barnes’ catalogue it does offer a unique approach to the classic Midwest lifestyle. This scene would normally be depicted with men in it, but these women gladly show their pride in their relaxed lifestyle. The floating beer cans lend an even more whimsical attitude to the whole affair as though the cans are the floating props of a juggler.

Another painting that has gained notoriety is “Bazaar Tractor Pull” which depicts a woman wearing boxing gloves with two cherubim next to her, one carrying luggage marked with 177. This number signifies the highway running through Bazaar and is meant to symbolize a desire to escape. In the horizon of the painting are the glowing skyscrapers of urban life. The painting represents the desire to escape the country to a new life in the city, but also depicts the desire to stay at home. Then again, it might mean something entirely different, as the planets that litter the sky and the halo of Roman numerals only serves to confuse a possible interpretation. That is what makes Barnes’ painting so intriguing.

“Narratives in a loose sense,” says Barnes, when discussing his paintings. “I reference folk art, surrealism and contemporary compositional practices to create ambiguity in both period and environment. Natural and manmade elements are placed in concert, creating a place of pleasant sharing.” This dedication to the connection between man and nature, also being the same as man’s connection to technology, is the crux of Barnes’ work and his beautiful colors, characters and scenes are better for it.

Mulvane Art Museum is located inside Garvey Fine Arts Center and is free to the public. Its other current galleries include “Bud Holman: A Retrospective” and “Dance of the Line: Rita Blitt in Motion.”