Artist and Friend Will Barnet Receives the National Medal of Arts from President Obama

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© JoAnne Kalish All Rights Reserved

Artist Will Barnet, legendary painter and print maker just turned 100 in May, recently received the National Medal of Arts from President Obama.

Barnet received this high honor “for his contributions as an American painter, printmaker, and teacher,” according to the citation. “For over 80 years, Mr Barnet has been a constant force in the visual arts world, marrying sophistication and emotion with beauty and form,” the citation said.

Will can no longer stand, but he still paints three to four hours a day in his duplex apartment in the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park, where he and his wife Elena have lived since 1982.  If you are not familiar with his work he is known for his abstract and expressionist paintings as well as his depictions of family and personal scenes.  Will taught at Cooper Union and Yale, among other places.  His famous students include Mark Rothko and Alex Katz.

I had an assignment from Arts & Antiques Magazine to do a spread on Will approximately 7 years ago and it was the best assignment I’ve ever had bar none.  It was a total privilege and honor just to meet him, let alone photograph him.  I totally admire his artwork and as a human being I’ve never met anyone quite like him.  He is so genuine giving and unassuming. He is totally supportive of women in the arts and if you think about his age and his artist contemporaries you will realize that was rarely the case.  Will and I have stayed in touch over the years as he has told me his favorite portrait is the one I did of him and no one has captured him the way I have.  He always requests my photograph of him, to be used alongside his work and he has an obvious favorite.

I just want to totally brag here and say Will called me this past New Year’s Day to wish Joe and I a very Happy New Year.  I was totally blown away!  That’s what I mean about him being so special!

Here is a selections of some of Will Barnet’s Paintings –



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