Adam Baumgold Gallery presents an exhibition by Deborah Barrett of over sixty drawings on text plus a series of collages that were executed while the artist was working at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul from 2009 to 2013. In these meticulously rendered portraits, Barrett, who is self-taught, seamlessly integrates her fine line onto the pages of old manuscripts and books from the region that were gathered with great ingenuity during her tenure in Kabul. These collage portraits, featuring invented characters in native garb have a dream-like intensity within their idiosyncratic, comic structure. Language is woven into clothing, letters and script fill out hair and beards that are organized and reimagined through Barrett’s visionary drawings.
The artist tells of the challenge to find her source material:
The drawings and collages that make up this exhibit are the result of four years I spent in Kabul, Afghanistan, at the American University there. As you might imagine the security conditions didn’t allow for an ordinary life – one always had a driver and escort (guard) in tow, plus the city was still so desperately afflicted – crippling traffic, open sewage, smog-choked air, check points everywhere, snaking convoys. Except for Babur Gardens, Kabul hardly called out for an afternoon amble. Instead, my solace in this highly constrained environment were the drawings and collages I did in the privacy of my guesthouse room.
I did venture out, of course, in search of material essential to the work: vintage paper. Those were the most memorable of excursions and were made possible only by a dedicated group of drivers and escorts who took me inside the warren of booksellers, into dark, damp backrooms of musty old shops, stood watch as I leapt over open sewers (no touching!!), waded through gray, gooey mire, climbed doubtful staircases inside dilapidated shipping containers and who translated and negotiated. They represented me – the crazy foreigner, a woman, hell-bent on buying old manuscript pages, so that in the secrecy of my room I could draw, I could paste, I could stay sane. And be happy, actually. These are the people who are at the core of this exhibition and it’s to their patience and persistence that the work exists.
This is Deborah Barrett’s third solo exhibition at the gallery. The previous exhibitions were in 1997 and 2000. Her drawings have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, among other publications. She was the recipient of a Pollock-Krasner grant and her work is in the permanent collection of the Achenbach Foundation at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco, among others. She currently lives in New York.