In living color

Color: Impressions and Innovations at Glen Helen

By Joyell Nevins

Photo: Joe Barrish, “McLain Street View”; oil

Our visual spectrum has some absolutes – if I say “triangle,” you think of a shape with three sides. But what about when I say “green”? Do you imagine a bright lime green? A green grass lawn? Or the dark green of spinach or pine?

“Color is the most relative concept in art,” Brother Joe Barrish, SM, said. “It’s very ambiguous.”

The spectrum and relativity of color is the subject of his new exhibit, Color: Impressions and Innovations. It is runs through Oct. 28 in the Glen Helen Atrium Gallery at Antioch College in Yellow Springs.

The exhibit also explores how certain colors complement each other – put a red object next to a green object and suddenly the red seems brighter.

“It draws something else out of them,” Barrish said.

Color theory has been one of many subjects he’s taught in the past 60 years. Barrish is a brother with the Marianists, a teaching order of the Roman Catholic church (he jokingly referred to himself as a “male nun”).

“It’s been a wonderful life,” he said. “It’s a fun ride.”

He was first drawn to the Marianists in his Catholic high school in Cleveland, Ohio. Many of his teachers were brothers from the order.

“They were always good teachers,” Barrish said, “so strict and serious, though, during class.”

But when he had the opportunity to see them outside of class, he noticed the brothers walking and laughing and enjoying themselves.

“They were very human after all,” Barrish smiled.

Barrish said he knew he wanted to make a difference in the world, and teaching through the Marianists seemed the way to do it. The Catholic order sponsors 18 high schools and three universities nationwide, including Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School and the University of Dayton.

“Education is the key to getting ahead in this world,” Barrish said.

Barrish taught history, religion and English from grade school to high school. All the while, he was doing art on the side. The last 20 years of his main teaching career was spent teaching art at the University of Dayton, often specifically color theory.

Barrish’s relativity of color concept comes from the theory of artist Josef Albers (1888-1976), considered one of the pioneers of 20th-century modernism. His 1963 book, “Interaction of Color” was one of the main texts for Barrish’s class. Barrish would use the color wheels and exercises with cut paper to show how colors can change and complement each other.

“The kids did great things with color, using the abstract,” Barrish said. “Even the unbelievers became convinced.”

Barrish continues to teach at UD’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. There are no final exams and no grades, just seniors who are willing to push their mental abilities. Barrish noted age is more of an attitude than a number.

“I hope I never get as old as some of the [college] students I have,” Barrish, 85, said.

To Barrish, aging begins when you let bitterness or fear stop you from learning and exploring new ideas. Last year, he called his class “Art for the Terrified.” Barrish said he taught next to a coffee shop and if the material got too overwhelming, they would just take a coffee break.

From preteens to senior citizens, Barrish sees a lot of the same aspects in his students who are trying to learn and how he must respond to them.

“You don’t bash people,” Barrish said. “They make mistakes and you have to correct them, but you don’t smother them with rules. You get many more results if you understand people and where they’re coming from.”

Barrish said he is continually reminded of the importance of taking time for each individual from an incident that happened during his college teaching career. He had office hours from 1–4 p.m., and one day he was in the office after 4 p.m. A timid young man knocked and told Barrish, “I would like to think about getting into the arts.”

Barrish noted he could have told the man, “I have office hours from 1–4, come back then.” But he didn’t. He asked the young man to come in, sat down and talked with him for a short time, and encouraged him to get a portfolio together. The young man didn’t come back after that, and Barrish didn’t think any more about it.

That is, until two weeks after the interview when he got a call from the young man’s mother, who told him her son had taken his life.

“What if I had turned him away because it didn’t fit my schedule? How could I have lived with myself?” Barrish mused.

Instead, Barrish chooses to care about each individual he encounters, and take them on their own merit.

“Everybody’s got a good side to them,” he said. “You can’t judge someone by one or two incidents. You have to give people room to be human beings.”

After the Glen Helen exhibit wraps up, Barrish has a springtime exhibit in the works called All Around Dayton, using woodwork to display Dayton architecture. He is also completing stained glass windows for Good Samaritan and paintings for the Samaritan Homeless Clinic.

“I feel like getting up every morning – every day is exciting,” Barrish declared. “If you’re really enthusiastic about anything, you’ll stay alive.”


Color: Impressions and Innovations will be on view through Tuesday, Oct. 28 at the Glen Helen Atrium Gallery in the Vernet Ecological Center, 405 Corry St. in Yellow Springs. Show hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Admission is free. For more information, please call 937.769.1902 or visit


Reach DCP freelance writer Joyell Nevins at

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Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at or reach her at

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