Artist Polo Barrera's exhibit, “Untamed Strokes of Nature,” is a collection of paintings that transform flowers and foliage from his backyard into light-saturated meditations on how we see the natural world.
With Polo Barrera’s paintings of blossoming forsythia and sun-dappled tulips, spring erupted in bursts of brilliant colors in the gallery at Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, weeks before the season arrived.
In his exhibit titled “Untamed Strokes of Nature,” the Walpole artist is showing 15 acrylic paintings that transform flowers and foliage from his backyard into light-saturated meditations on how we see the natural world.
For the 51-year-old graphic designer, “nature is a springboard into an emotional world. ... As a graphic designer, I’m working to satisfy a client,” said Barrera at the gallery at 293 Moose Hill St. “When I paint for myself, it’s a form of free expression. I’m expressing emotion.”
Working almost exclusively with acrylics, Barrera uses heightened colors to infuse everyday natural scenes with a vibrant immediacy as if glimpsed for the first time.
Whether painting a stand of maple trees or blooming rhododendrons, he overlays his naturalistic depictions with an impressionist luster of thick, rich colors.
Curator Jan Nareski Goba said Barrera was selected from among several artists who’d submitted their work because his paintings were “visually stunning.”
“Polo’s paintings were complex, yet so simple. I was intrigued by the vibrancy and emotion of his colors,” she said.
Pointing to a striking painting titled “Mystical Morning,” of tall trees covered with bright, shimmering leaves, she said, “It makes you stop in your tracks and go into it. There’s that kind of emotional connection.”
While organizing several exhibits a year, Goba said she looks for local artists, often painters or photographers like Barrera, whose work is high-quality, nature-based and deeply personal.
“We chose Polo’s paintings because they’re a really dramatic combination of being abstract and visually simple. You can recognize actual woods, trees and flowers but there’s an abstract energy. These works could be from any season of the year and would be beautiful. They’re bursting with excitement like nature itself.”
After working 25 years as a graphic designer and illustrator at Silver Burdett Ginn, he’s spent the last three years re-igniting a lifelong passion for painting that began when he was a child growing up in Texas.
While enjoying work that made use of his technical skills and eye for composition, he realizes now that his passion for creative art continued to stir within.
About five years ago, Barrera began doodling in a sketch book, drawing lines, shapes and patterns that seemed to be urging him to give them color and life.
“I was just looking to paint and expand out of the realm of graphic design,” he said.
Opening one of his sketchbooks, which are part of the display, he pointed to a drawing, dated Oct. 6, 2006, of twisting lines that resemble veins in a leaf.
Barrera said, “They started turning into pieces of graphic art. I thought to myself, I’m ready to move on.”
In recent months, he won first and second prizes in the acrylics category in a show held by the Foxboro Art Association and completed an exhibit in the Building 9 gallery in Norwood.
He often works outdoors, sketching natural scenes in his yard, Bird Park in Walpole or local woodlands, sketching first and sometimes taking photos before finishing in his home studio.
For Barrera, acrylics allow him to work fast enough to capture ephemeral scenes changing before his eyes.
He describes his brush strokes as energetic. Sometimes he uses a paint knife to daub in the textured surface of a tree’s bark or a flower’s surface.
In his strongest painting, “Mystical Morning,” he used the cap of a jar to impress thick circles of lush colors that made his scenes shimmer as if alive.
“I’m not locked into traditional styles. I like to work in uncommon shapes,” said Barrera. “For the time being, I plan to continue to work in this direction and see how it evolves.”
The Patriot Ledger