First published in the Feb. 12, 2022, print issue of the Burbank Leader.
This past week, an opening night reception kicked off the Betsy Lueke Creative Arts Center’s February presentation: A retrospective exhibition of the paintings, drawings and sculpture of the late artist Barry Gordon.
While far from a full oeuvre of Gordon’s prolific career, his longtime assistant Christine Haenen said the show, staged as a tribute to the artist who died in 2020, offers a comprehensive review of his work, especially from the latter part of his life.
“While he produced an extensive body of work for us to have selected from for this show, the pieces we included are some of his most colorful, playful, joyful and light, but with a deeper, and in some cases, a darker level. They offer a commentary that makes you think,” Haenen said. “That was his genius as an artist.”
Virginia Causton-Keene, the director of the arts center, had been working with the artist himself for quite some time to arrange for this show.
“He had first approached us back in 2018 about showcasing his work at our gallery, and we were excited to work with him to make that happen,” Causton-Keene said. “Even after he fell ill and our show schedule was interrupted due to the pandemic, he still wanted to do this show. He was such an enigmatic and charismatic character you just wanted to hug him, and his work is so colorfully intense — he never followed rules. There is a lot of wit, humor and political commentary in his art, and from the start we were really excited to do the exhibition.”
When Gordon began working with Causton-Keene on presenting the collection, neither of them gave any thought that, when it came to fruition, it would be offered as a posthumous tribute show.
“I was very sad when I received a call from his son who told me he had passed away, and that’s when I began working with Christine, because we still wanted to make this show happen as a homage to him,” said Causton-Keene. “We knew how much he wanted his work to be showcased in our gallery, and we felt it would be a fitting tribute to him as his final show.”
Along with Haenen, Causton-Keene also worked to make the show a reality with the artist’s son, Dan and widow Rachanee, who were both on hand for last week’s opening reception.
“Even when he was sick, he still wanted to do this show,” Dan said. “Because we knew it meant so much to him, we were determined to work with Virginia to make it happen. So, while there is a sadness in that this will be the final showing of his work, we’re also very happy that we have been able to do this tribute to him in this gallery.”
While Gordon’s resume reads like that of a Renaissance man, including Peace Corps service and professional work as a social worker, real estate agent, finance consultant, professor, gallery owner and entrepreneur, his family stressed that he had always — first and foremost — considered himself to be an artist.
A Los Angeles native, Gordon began taking art classes as a child and had one of his works included in an exhibition of children’s art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York when he was just 9 years old.
A graduate of the University of California, Gordon’s debut exhibition took place in 1965 at the Bogner Gallery on Gallery Row in Los Angeles. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s he exhibited works at many prestigious venues and provided numerous illustrations for the New York Times, Washington Post and other publications.
Recognized for the playfulness, whimsy, joy and humor he expressed through vibrantly colorful scenes and characters, Gordon’s work was also known for its underlying social satire and commentary.
Having been called “a sociological surrealist” and an “abstract surrealist,” the artist once said that he always tried to achieve a visual counterpoint between color, composition, abstraction, representation and fantasy.
Influenced and inspired by legendary surrealists including Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, the messages Gordon relayed, often thorough “commedia dell’arte characters,” were characterized as being “audacious, colorful, satiric, comical, wildly imaginative and playful” by renowned art critic Shirle Gottlieb in a 1995 piece she wrote for Art Scene magazine.
“The thing for an adult is to regain the seriousness of a child at play,” Gottlieb wrote. “That famous quotation, by 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, is at the heart of Barry Gordon’s art.”
The Barry Gordon retrospective will run through Feb. 24 at the Betsy Lueke Creative Arts Center, which is located at 1100 West Clark Ave. in Izay Park. For more information, call (818) 238-5397.
DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 563-1007.