The artist, Eunice Agar, unveils her painting of Barrington Fair for Town Hall
Great Barrington — At the edge of a cornfield at the top of the airport runway, the sun pours in to a painting studio, falling on a cart of paintbrushes, some of them 60 years old and worn down at the edges, just the way their owner likes them.
Great Barrington native and painter Eunice Agar has been working in this studio since the 1970s, after her father built it for her. Agar, 81, remembers back to when Bryant Elementary and Searles High were let out early so that students could have extra time at the Great Barrington Fair when it came to the Fairgrounds every September.
And now Agar has encapsulated those memories in a painting commissioned by a group of friends for the purpose of having it live in the Town Hall Meeting Room. “146 Barrington Fair – 1988” is done in the style of what Agar, a painter for 68 years, calls “painterly realism.”
After graduating from Searles, Agar studied art history and painting at Wellesley College. Naturally, she has developed some opinions about the form, and explains them as she dotes on “Hicks,” her Brittany Spaniel named for painter Edward Hicks, known for his The Peaceable Kingdom, circa 1833.
“For a long time the emphasis was on self expression,” Agar said. “I disagree with that idea a little bit. You are simply the vehicle for expressing the world around you.”
Agar, whose father Charles started Agar Oil in 1932, was earlier in her career the managing editor at American Artist Magazine in New York, and later a contributing editor. Agar started painting at age 13 and has been doing it ever since. She continued to study painting while she worked for the magazine, and between 1963 and 1966, Agar went to Greece to paint, and later taught. She has taken her easel and brushes to Northern Italy, Mexico, Maine and Florida, as well. She has had shows in New York, Washington D.C., Tallahassee, Albany and Maine, and has her work in public collections. She occasionally writes for the local art magazine, The Artful Mind.
One “requirement” of places to paint, she says, is that Hicks must be able to run around. For that reason, she often finds herself at Jug End Reservation in Mt. Washington.
Agar has been painting full time since 1978, mostly using oil, casein and some watercolor. Stylistically, she says her work is “representational, expressive realism.”
The artist’s individuality comes out in the work no matter what, she says. “You can’t avoid that. It’s like handwriting. I think that comes automatically.” She is suspicious about the Jungian trend in painting of “mining the images from the subconscious” rather than “responding to the world around you.” Regardless, she says, the subconscious is accessed anyway through concentration.
“All the Jungian archetypes are repetitious,” she said. “Your individuality comes out from the world…not from inside yourself.”
She cites Picasso, the best draftsman in Paris in the early 1900s, as an example. “All the best artists did that…they all learned how to draw the real world, then abstract from it.”
Notebooks with figurative ink sketches lie open, scattered around her studio. Facing out back to the cornfield and airport, is a light-filled sitting room loaded with books. A still life of shells rests next to a sketch of concertgoers at the old Music Inn in Stockbridge.
Agar says she believes in “pulling out of reality,” and indeed much of her work depicts landscapes, or people en masse, strolling through fairs. And this real-world attitude extends to the framing process; Agar makes her own simple frames out of pine. “That way, if they get dented at a show, you can just sand it out,” she says.
Agar was born at Fairview Hospital in 1934. Her grandfather, Charles Warner, for years won first prize for his farm display at the fair, which she noted, began operating in 1842.
Agar’s friends were present, cheering her on, at Monday’s (June 8) Selectboard meeting, where the painting was unveiled. Her friends, she said, had given her the commission for her 80th birthday, knowing that the work would be donated to the town. It will hang with several other paintings of hers on loan, and which are already up at the back of the room.
Town officials appeared thrilled with the artwork, and Agar said they had inspected it before its unveiling. “[Town Manager] Jennifer Tabakin and two selectman came to the studio to make sure they liked it.”