Barnaby Furnas (American, born 1973) Rock Concert (The Rolling Stones) 2013

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Lot 25* TP
Barnaby Furnas
(American, born 1973)
Rock Concert (The Rolling Stones)

£ 50,000 - 70,000
US$ 67,000 - 93,000
Barnaby Furnas (American, born 1973)
Rock Concert (The Rolling Stones)

signed on the overlap; signed, titled, dated March 2013 and inscribed The Rolling Stones NYC on the reverse, and inscribed RS on the stretcher
acrylic with water dispersed pigments and pencil on linen

152.3 by 213.5 cm.
59 15/16 by 84 1/16 in.


  • Provenance
    Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

    Any examination of Barnaby Furnas' oeuvre will reveal that his paintings are not limited to simply one message, but that there is always either a dark underbelly or a silver lining to add complexity to the concept, some grit in the oyster. This is particularly the case with the present work. Entitled Rock Concert (The Rolling Stones) this could be seen as an orgiastic paean to the great Rock Gods of the 1960s but it is far more than that; the composition is shot through with beams of spotlights in the same way as his Civil War paintings are rent with bullet lines and drenched in crimson leading to a dizzying impact on the viewer. This is muscular, epic painting in the grand American tradition emulating the greats of fiction such as Philip Roth or John Steinbeck, rooted both in the grand narratives of history and their fraught underbelly.

    Furnas' paintings are always suffused with energy, intensity, vitality; his work is a visceral response to American folklore, whether he is deconstructing images of the Civil War, immortalising stadium rock concerts or getting his hands dirty with the business of life, red in tooth and claw. Indeed the explosion of red pigment positions the present work right at the heart of the artist's signature practice in which the colour dominates the composition and is pregnant with red's most fertile associations: blood, violence, rage and eroticism. The painting as such is not an homage to the Rolling Stones as we have come to know them, whose position in the annals of rock and roll history, now well into the seventh decade of their career, is beyond question. Rather, the work channels a particular time when rock and roll was still dangerous, and the Stones live were as Lester Bangs famously wrote at the time, "a supernatural visitation, a cataclysmic experience of Wagnerian power that transcended music". Moreover, the painting is purported to be inspired by the infamous concert at the Altamont Speedway outside San Francisco in 1969. Intended as a "Woodstock West", over 300,000 gathered for a free concert including the likes of Jefferson Airplane, Tina Turner, Crosby, Stills Nash & Young, and Santana, all icons of counter-culture. The Stones headlined, and by the end of the evening the summer of love had turned sour following the murder of a fan named Meredith Palmer by a member of the Hells Angels, after Palmer rushed the stage, and three further accidental deaths.

    As subject matter for an artist whose foundations rest on ideas of contrast, of brutality and elegance, form and chaos there can be nothing more fertile than a tragic rock concert headlined by the world's biggest band at a seismic moment in Western culture. With this work, he conjures the implicitly Bacchanalian aspects of stadium rock concerts, its ritual of sex, death, violence and, of course, catharsis. With the escalating conflict in Vietnam, political and civil rights assassinations and the Manson Family murders, the utopian dream of the 60s was rapidly shattering and the tragedy at Altamont in some sense sealed its grave. Furnas' grasp of history is palpable, drawing the viewer into the euphoria with his palette, the subtle, agitated movements of the drumsticks, the soft sway of the band members, while also walking us back from the spectacle to see it within the larger flow of time. Artistically, he seamlessly melds the themes of Futurism with the techniques of Cubism. all through the prism of a traditional History Painting on a grand scale. These interlocking tropes mirror the time travel of his exploration of cultural history with the present work evoking a specific moment from the 1960s through a portrait of a cultural icon still at the height of its power almost fifty years later. The painting is reverential but it is not hagiographic; the fact that the artist is prepared to allude to moments of tragedy whilst glorying in the triumph and the ecstasy of the stadium gig is telling. This is not the fond remembrance of a groupie but a dark fantasy played out against the backdrop of real events.

    Furnas is not the only major American artist to have been inspired by this story, Sam Durant referenced the Altamont Free Concert in his 1998 sculptural installation Partially Buried 1960s/70s Dystopia Revealed (Mick Jagger at Altamont) & Utopia Reflected (Wavy Gravy at Woodstock) that now resides in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. As an exercise in catharsis it is a worthy counterpoint to Furnas' majestic and haunting masterpiece. Furnas takes his place amongst the leading lights of his generation as a towering figure in American painting. His work is to be found in the permanent collections of institutions including The Whitney, MoMA in New York, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art amongst others.
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