Philip Barter (b.1939) is a self-taught artist from Boothbay, Maine, who was living in California during the 1960s when he met Alfonso Sosa, an abstract expressionist painter. Sosa took Barter under his wing and added a “charge of light and color” to Barter’s aesthetic vision that influenced his work for the next fifty years. While living out west, Barter discovered the work of Marsden Hartley and felt an immediate connection with this great American modernist, vowing to further Hartley’s vision. Back in Boothbay Harbor, Barter met Frederick Rockwell, a painter and sculptor, who also encouraged Barter to keep painting.
By the 1970s, Barter and his second wife Priscilla had moved to downeast Maine, where they raised their seven children and built a home from wood they collected along the shores of Taunton Bay. Challenged to support his growing family as an artist, Barter took a ten-year hiatus from painting, working in all manner of traditional Maine jobs—he clammed, dug worms, was the sternman on a lobster boat, did carpentry, and dragged for mussels. In his spare time, Barter studied art history, and with Priscilla they made a life immersed in art for their large family.
By the time Barter returned to painting full-time, he was receiving critical acclaim for his work. Bates College Museum of Art mounted a retrospective of Barter’s work in 1992, and Bates, the Farnsworth Museum, and Portland Museum of Art acquired his work. Barter was also the subject of a feature profile in Down East magazine and in January 1995, Tim Sample highlighted Barter’s life in art in one of his “Postcards from Maine” segments on the CBS Sunday Morning program hosted by Charles Kuralt. Barter has since spent a half-century painting narratives based on the Maine’s fiercely independent people and the landscape of his home state, becoming the “painter laureate” of the region.
In 2017, Marshall Wilkes published Philip Barter: Forever Maine, a comprehensive hard cover book by Carl Little on Barter’s work and career.