In my humble opinion

David Barnett: Thinking outside the box

By JONATHAN CHARLES FOX
Posted 11/10/21

I don’t know about you, but personally, I like to drive. As a kid, my parents would pile us all into the ’59 Buick and hit the road with no actual destination in mind, but simply to take …

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In my humble opinion

David Barnett: Thinking outside the box

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I don’t know about you, but personally, I like to drive. As a kid, my parents would pile us all into the ’59 Buick and hit the road with no actual destination in mind, but simply to take a nice leisurely drive in the country.

I used to love reading the billboards and spying cool stuff from the backseat, while my folks sat up front, chain-smoking without a care in the world. Of course, nowadays I’m all grown up and rarely hit the road simply for a drive in the country, since a trip to the grocery store is literally a drive in the country. Naturally, Dharma the Wonder Dog is always at my side, often seen sticking her adorable head out the window (save your letters, she’s fine) and sniffing the clean country air.

While doing just that a few days ago, I had both eyes on the road, but the dog saw something that caught her attention as we cruised toward home on Route 17B in beautiful Bethel, NY, and she began to growl softly, followed by barking enough to cause me to look. I didn’t pull over but I sure did a doubletake, because I could have sworn I caught a glimpse of Bigfoot in the rearview mirror, near what looked like a freakin’ flying saucer. Making a mental note to get my eyes checked, I calmed the dog down and drove home without further incident. Once there, I took to social media in case anyone else had spotted the elusive, legendary cryptid lurking behind a UFO in broad daylight.

A recent post on artist David Alexander Barnett’s Facebook page featured the giant ape-man wearing headphones and dancing in what appeared to be a storage facility. “What I’ve been doing these past couple of months,” the post read, with pictures taken from (uh-huh) 17B. The photos were of one of those long, metal and thoroughly uninteresting industrial buildings that I’ve always considered a blight on the landscape of Sullivan County, but Barnett’s latest project—a series of eight murals on the side of the Bethel Self Storage Park—has transformed the building, which houses individual storage containers, into a veritable work of art.

As is my wont, I immediately contacted David and asked him to meet me there.

As the dog scampered over to a family of aliens, I set up my camera and peppered Barnett with questions. “What, how and why” were at the top of my list, and as David filled in the blanks, I took photos of the outside of each individual storage unit, eight of them all told. One depicted a sixties band rehearsing with the rollup metal garage door, well, rolled up.

Another revealed pirates ogling a treasure chest filled with gold coins, while on one end of the facility a giant girly purple octopus lifted the heavy metal gate with a few of her tentacles.

One metal box housed a cow branded with the storage park’s logo, and then there’s Bigfoot himself, surrounded by moving boxes where he was taking a break and listening to some tunes. Each mural is life-sized and brimming with fantastical detail.

“So the owners reached out to Cobalt Studios’ Rachel Keebler with the idea of some sort of mural and she kindly recommended me,” Barnett explained. “They are located in California and didn’t know exactly what the project was going to be, so we explored the concept together. We collaborated through hundreds of emails but, as it turned out, they had pretty specific ideas of what they wanted to see in each of the ‘exposed’ units, which was designed to bring attention to the storage park while being something cool to look at.”

As I clicked away, Barnett informed me that the series began with a mural of moving boxes and a 60s-themed scene, since Bethel is famous for being the site of the 1969 Woodstock music festival. But when one of the owners’ wives suggested the giant octopus for another scene, Barnett’s creativity went into overdrive.

 “Art is such an interesting thing because you first have the image you’re looking at, and then there’s the memory of it, and you mostly live with the memory,” he said.  “So you drive by this and what do you remember? Moving boxes? Or a huge purple octopus?”

So you drive by this and what do you remember? Moving boxes?
So you drive by this and what do you remember? Moving boxes?
... or a huge purple octopus?
... or a huge purple octopus?

Early on in the process, Barnett stood in the parking lot with businessmen Setterlund and Avellar tossing ideas around. “‘What about aliens?’ they suggested. ‘What about Bigfoot? How about pirates?’ And then I just explored those themes as I set about creating what turned out to be eight individual scenes painted over a period of many months.”

Noting that the murals were insanely fun, I asked Barnett if he enjoyed the process. “Definitely,” he said. “It has a lighthearted nature to it. I think my personal work leans toward being more serious but I’m not always a serious person. One of the things I like about painting on this scale is that you have to understand where people are going to be looking at them, and in this case, people are looking from way over there,” he said gesticulating toward the road, “and moving quickly.”

Noting that the murals are quite large (eight feet tall by six-and-a-half feet wide) Barnett told me that he painted them all indoors in a studio, in Cochecton, NY. “None of this would have been possible without the generosity of Mary Lucier, who kindly offered me use of her late husband’s renovated studio, which had been vacant since his passing.”

“My skill set is primarily painting, and there were a lot of things to consider, because the construction [of the panels] involved for outdoor painting is essential. If you get one step wrong, it damages the final product. I had a lot of help from some great people who knew how to accomplish the goal of a large-scale outdoor project.”  

Noting that the storage park owners could have simply put up a banner, or had computer-generated art made cheaply, Barnett agreed. “Yes, they could have just ordered something or had a print made, but they chose to support a local artist, which is amazing. These murals won’t be here forever, but the location will be and the idea of art being displayed here will as well. They’ve created something beyond just these murals. This is public art and that’s kind of cool.”

"One of the things I like about painting on this scale is that you have to understand where people are going to be looking at them, and in this case, people are looking from way over there."
"One of the things I like about painting on this scale is that you have to understand where people are going to be looking at them, and in this case, …

Since most people will only observe the murals from a distance, I asked David about the myriad of small details that can only be seen up close and personal.

“One thing that occurred to me while I was painting them was that I should be looser and bolder because part of the painting comes together in the air, so I want to step back and think about the depth, and the colors and shapes—it could be the case that there are too many details.”

Respectfully disagreeing with Barnett, I pointed out that the details are incredible and how fun they are to discover on closer inspection. While most will only see the murals as they drive by from a distance, the fishing gear behind the lady octopus, the psychedelic art in the garage where hippie musicians rehearse and the wanted posters adorning the walls of Bigfoot’s storage unit bachelor pad are part and parcel of the alluring charm that Barnett has infused into these fantastic, creative and highly artistic murals, each of which could stand alone.

One thing is certain. David Barnett knows how to think (and paint) outside the box. In my humble opinion.

To learn more about Barnett, go to http://www.davidalexanderbarnett.com.

Fun Fact: Those who study or search for mythical animals are called cryptozoologists, while the hypothetical creatures involved are referred to as “cryptids,” a term coined by John Wall in 1983.

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