Things You Know But Cannot Explain – The Visual Intensity of Rick Bartow

Creation of Crow, 2014. Acrylic on Canvas, 36 x 48 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Froelick Gallery, Portland, © Rick Bartow

Rick Bartow (December 1946 – April 2, 2016) was an American artist and a member the Mad River Band of Wiyot Indians, a small tribe indigenous to Humboldt County, California.

He primarily created pastel, graphite, and mixed media drawings, wood sculpture, acrylic paintings, drypoint etchings, monotypes, and a small number of ceramic works.

Rick Bartow died on April 2, 2016 at the age of 69, of congestive heart failure.
His work is deep and intense. His series “Things You Know But Cannot Explain,” is a representation which features a broad selection of sculptures, paintings, drawings and prints expressing more than forty years of work. His imagery can be described as visionary and transformative. When looking at his work I felt a range of emotions. From sadness, fear and curiosity, Rick Bartows work is a surreal experience.

Things You Know But Cannot Explain, 1979 Graphite on paper, 24 x 19 inches © Rick Bartow / Froelick Gallery
Creation of Crow, 2014. Acrylic on Canvas, 36 x 48 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Froelick Gallery, Portland, © Rick Bartow

Bartow work in Things You Know But Cannot Explain, has a consistent haunted theme which includes various crows. The intelligent crows become human like and contemplative and somewhat murderous. In his piece, Crow’s Creation V, I wondered if the man is struggling against the crow or the crow against the man. There is a friction expressed between nature and human. The crows have a powerful presence that borders on an Alfred Hitchcock tale.

The raw intensity of Bartow’s work is not subtle. In your face aggressive and bold, you cannot help but wonder what the artist was struggling with on the inside. Some of his work is hard to look at. It demands notice. Several pieces horrific as if expressing a war.

It’s What I’m Here To Do

Bartow was encouraged as a child to pursue art, However he choose to earn a degree in education. After college he was drafted to Vietnam and spent 13 months fighting. Upon his return he became an alcoholic and fell into deep depression. He started drawing again with the only art supplies he could afford, graphite and paper.

Bartow continued working on his art, using it as a release, during the next ten years. At this time he was also teaching in the Oregon Public schools, and it wasn’t until his boss encouraged him to focus on his art full time that he left teaching to concentrate on his talents.

“I’m not precious about it. It’s what I’m here to do – to make marks on paper” – Rick Bartow

Today you can see his works throughout galleries. The recent exhibition at the Heard Museum in Phoenix is where I discovered this raw and unique artist.

CS Indian, 2014 Pastel. tempera, graphite on paper. © Rick Bartow / Froelick Gallery
Rick Bartow (Wiyot and Yurok), Bird Dream. Acrylic on panel.

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