The Black Barn is one of a series of large landscapes in mixed media on paper painted by Crozier in the late 1980s. Created as paintings in their own right, few of them have been exhibited until now. Crozier's choice of gouache on paper was deliberate in order to allow maximum flexibility and experimentation.
Crozier explored the subject of the black barn several times in paintings executed between 1987 and 1989. Like all of his landscapes, the black barn paintings were based on the artist's experience in nature where he found these derelict buildings to have ' ... a certain menace, like the early industrial factories they have attained a heroic poise. They embody myths of loss of a rural golden age' (see J. Von Joel, Interview with William Crozier, Art Line, No. 7, Vol. 4). The task in representing the barns, for Crozier, lay in 'the formal problems [which] become uppermost to retain their qualities and yet invest them with contemporary spirit, free from sentiment or the picturesque' (op.cit.). The solution, as is so often the case with this artist's work, lay in an imaginative revisiting of the art of the past.
In 1982 and 1985 Crozier visited the art collections of Moscow and found his imagination fired by the rich collections of icon paintings he found there. 'Icons' he wrote later 'changed my view of almost everything ... that intensity' (see 'Bepop and the Bullfight', William Crozier in Conversation with Emily Mark Fitzgerald, Collaborations and Conversations, Stoney Road Press 2002-2007, Dublin 2007). Crozier was fascinated by the emotional and spiritual power generated within the vivid colours and taut compositions of such small paintings. In his watercolours and drawings of the late 1980s he began to intensify the colour of his landscapes and often to employ simplified, flattened forms in his composition, as if to consciously establish a less naturalistic, more hieratic language for the landscape. In this major gouache, the use of gold paint mixed into the pigment is a quiet nod to the icon tradition, which can also be recalled through the large, flattened shape of the barn itself. Crozier creates a pictorial tension between the monumental form of the barn, the opulent colour of the landscape and the flickering brushwork of the surface of the painting that animates the whole.