Barnaby Furnas (b. 1973)
Barnaby Furnas (b. 1973)

Hamburger Hill

Barnaby Furnas (b. 1973)
Hamburger Hill
signed, titled and dated 'Barnaby Furnas HAMBURGER HILL FEB 02' (on the reverse)
graphite and urethane on canvas
72¼ x 120¼ in. (182.9 x 304.8 cm.)
Painted in 2002.
Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
S. Momin, Barnaby Furnas, New York, 2009, pp. 10 and 25 (illustrated in color).
Abstract America, exh. cat., New York, pp. 380 and 381 (illustrated in color).
Gateshead, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Barnaby Furnas, April-June 2005, pp. 6-7, 36-37 and 79 (illustrated in color).
London, Royal Academy of Arts and St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum, USA Today, October 2006-January 2008, pp. 134-135 (illustrated in color).

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Lot Essay

Barnaby Furnas's Hamburger Hill seduces the senses, re-interpreting the history painting with an action-packed, bloody depiction of the field of battle. Furnas clearly refers to the aesthetic of early video gaming, his distinctive paint application expertly capturing brutal violence, while retaining a detached emotional distance from the action. The physical act of applying pigment to canvas is at the heart of Furnas's oeuvre. Hamburger Hill bursts with vivid color and ingeniously fluid paint application, testifying to Furnas's unique vision and interpretative skills. This vision was born out of his admiration for a rich variety of visual sources, ranging from the great French Romantic painter Théodore Géricault to the master of contemporary storytelling, Kara Walker.

Hamburger Hill captures the height of a violent and bloody battle. Furnas mixes visual symbolism amid the chaos and flying bullets, depicting his sharp-suited, pork-pie-hat-wearing gunmen carrying a battle scarred confederate flag aloft. Furnas depicts every part of the action in infinite detail, in his characteristically chaotic style, from the slipstream of bullets whizzing across the canvas to human remains being vaporized out of existence. Furnas developed his unique visual style out of the wealth of visual material that he experienced growing up. Television, movies and even video games combine with art historical depictions of great battles to become part of the rich image archive he would draw upon to create these large-scale works. The titled of this work borrows from the futile battle during the Vietnam War. Furnas conflates America's wartime history, employing civil war soldiers, thus expounding on a larger and deeper depiction of American violence. "In graduate school I was splitting my time between studying French Romantic painting ... and going to action movies like Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, so I decided to combine the two, taking what I loved about action movies, which is all the shit flying around, and subjecting it to what I love about painting, which is the stillness and silence. The idea was to make a blockbuster painting ..." (B. Furnas, quoted in C. Dunham, "Interview with Barnaby Furnas", Barnaby Furnas, New York, 2009, p. 146). Through this combination, Furnas manifests in Hamburger Hill the ultimate in both tradition and innovation.

Furnas executed this large work in intricate detail, clearly showing his love of the painterly process. The expansive Hamburger Hill reveals how Furnas, previously used to working on a much smaller scale, mastered the ability to make his favored urethane-based paint behave like watercolor. Furnas often works with the support laid out on the floor, suspending himself above its surface, often letting the composition's precise detail reveal itself as he goes along. "One of the things I do well is let things be what they want to be," he says "You wait to see a face emerge, then you help that face along" (B. Furnas, quoted in S. Indrisek, "Barnaby Furnas," Art + Auction, January 2011, Vol. XXXIV No. 5, p. 43). His confidence is rewarded with the incredibly rich execution of the battle action, rendered in almost photographic detail. This detail even extends to the blood splatters which Furnas executes using a hypodermic needle to apply squirts of red paint directly to the canvas's surface, as he feels this process more accurately renders the aesthetic effect he desires.

Barnaby Furnas leads the pack of a new generation of American painters who have updated the history painting genre's rich traditions with a thoroughly modern visual aesthetic and technical repertoire. Hamburger Hill is an important early example of his unique aesthetic, evidenced by the fact that it has been included in a number of the artist's important exhibitions. These include his first retrospective at Gateshead's Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in the UK and the major contemporary American art survey held at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 2006, titled USA Today. Hamburger Hill's size, intricate detail and exhaustive execution are clearly rooted in the history of painting, but Furnas's unique visual aesthetic brings them into the 21st century. His ultra-contemporary references combine with his overtly painterly style to produce monumental works of red-hot intensity.

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