Member Spotlight: Shawn Barber


Member Spotlight - Shawn Barber

[ August 4, 2009 ]  

When did you start painting?
Growing up, I was drawing my own comics and painting airbrushed murals of superheroes all over the small town of Cortland, New York. I went to a community college for a year and a half after high school and dropped out to pursue higher education in drug abuse and learning the hard knocks of life. At twenty five, the same old routine was completely worn out and I went back to school at a private college in Central New York for two years. I took the most of what I could from this experience and transferred to an art school in Florida, and immersed myself in art even more. For the first time, things started to click for me and I was motivated to saturate my life with art. At this time, I was introduced to a wealth of art history and started painting seriously every day to the present. It's been 13 years and I'm even more focused than ever.

What's your perspective on going to art school to pursue a career in the arts?
There are NO guarantees. But admissions will promise you the world and a job waiting for you 4 years down the road. I personally have a self conscious point of view on art schools today for too many reasons. As a former art school student and teacher for several years in 3 different art schools across the country, and a successful working illustrator and fine artist- I completely benefitted from the art school experience. But I was frustrated with the system as a student, and even more so when I was on the inside. Everything is a reflection of our society and commerce drives the art school freight train. My advice for anyone interested in higher education in the arts is to trust that serious debt is assured for much of their future. I know 100's of extremely successful commercial and fine artists that would not be where they are today if not for that experience. There are ten's of thousands of hopeful 'artists' that either were not ready, insincere, unmotivated and not passionate about making art and don't even dabble in their craft ever again.

So how does someone progress in the arts? I think being serious about what you do, dedicated and earnest to learning and really just being a sponge to all the possibilities with art. TRY EVERYTHING YOU CAN GET YOUR HANDS ON- drawing, painting, sculpture, acting, dance, playing an instrument, design work, photography, animation, film, etc... Whatever you can do to be creative and explore ideas that relate to and reflect your own personal experiences. Don't be afraid to play! Force yourself to become a master of your craft. Practice every single day, look at those who came before you for inspiration and example, get out into the world, visit other countries, learn another language, befriend local artists, get involved in your community, experience life- then go back and create something from within that reflects these experiences.

Why did you choose to focus on illustration after college instead of pursuing a career as a fine artist?
Upon graduating art school- I was turning 30 and had worked for too many people on their terms with no sense of working towards my own future personal goals. The choice to pursue commercial illustration was the perfect choice for me at that time. I could assert myself as an individual, live my own life schedule and create my own business. I could also paint every single day. From the beginning, I have created paintings for the sake of art and exploration of my own personal ideas and could continue to do so at a feverish pace while still doing commercial work. The first 2 to 3 years were lean, but I spent every penny and all of my time consumed with learning how to make it happen with mostly time spent and elbow grease. Everyday, going to the bookstore and researching art directors and publications that use illustration, creating new pieces and sending out postcards and portfolios. The Alternative Pick website was actually one of the first online portfolio sites that I paid for as a commitment to pursuing the business of illustration.

I travelled often to major cities to meet art directors and drop off portfolios, meeting young and seasoned illustrators and feeling connected to the community. I had a few key art directors that kept me busy enough to survive and I wouldn't be where I am without their trust in the beginning to get the job done on time. I was also teaching at an art school and definitely felt like it was my responsibility as an educator to be an example. After a couple of years into it, I fortunately connected with Magnet Reps. I felt like I knew enough about the business to know where their percentage was going and they have honestly been the best part of my career as a commercial artist. Finding an agent that works for you is not easy, but it's a relationship that can be amazing, especially if both parties trust that they have each others best interests at all times. It has allowed me to spend more time painting fine art and commercial pieces.

Your art isn't focused on one specific theme, but you do have a couple of ongoing bodies of work.
As an artist, I'm just trying to respond and reflect. After 9/11, much of the world as we knew it seemed fairly dismal. At that time, I was using toy dolls as a vehicle to create paintings from and it really did give me fuel to create. In 2005 I started a couple of paintings involving body art and felt like I truly found my calling. I then moved to San Francisco, the mecca for American Tattooing and became engrossed with the medium. I became more and more heavily tattooed, started to learn about tattooing's storied history, and actually began the journey of learning the craft. I've been fortunate to learn from some of the greatest living tattoo artists working today and continue on the path of pursuing the medium. It has definitely consumed my entire life. I've created over 1200 paintings the last 13 years, about half of these have been commercial jobs, the other half have been fine art. Tattooed Portraits make up about 180 of these paintings.

What have been your sources of inspiration and influence?
My friends have inspired and motivated me to keep at it, with a hungry desire to progress and learn. San Francisco's artists have taught me quite a bit about work ethic, dedication to ones craft and the essence of humility. Artists keep their ego's in perspective in San Francisco and I think it's essential to truly evolve and move forward. Artistic inspiration is a hearty list- a few key influences in my development include Diego Velazquez, Anthony Van Dyck, Egon Schiele, Alphonse Mucha, Jerome Witkin, Hans Bellmer, John Singer Sargent, Jenny Saville, Euan Uglow, Andrew Wyeth, Hokusai, J.C. Leyendecker, Robert Henri, Auguste Rodin, Norman Rockwell, Jusepe de Ribera, Richard Avedon, Thomas Eakins, Odd Nerdrum, Edgar Degas, Ilya Repin, Paul Cadmus, Antonio Lopez Garcia, Gil Elvgren, Coles Phillips, Coby Whitmore, Don Ed Hardy and Filip Leu.

What are you working on now?
I'm just finishing up pieces for a solo show in San Francisco at the Shooting Gallery opening August 15th, working on pieces for a two person show with Turf One at the Yves Laroche Gallery in Montreal opening September 2nd. I also tattoo 3 to 4 days a week at Seventh Son Tattoo in San Francisco.

What's on the horizon?
I have a solo show in New York City at The Joshua Liner Gallery in April 2010 that I'm really excited about. I'm taking the plunge in November and making the move to Los Angeles. My girl and I are opening a private studio, tattoo shop and place to teach painting workshops. I'm ready for the change, and looking forward to making a dent in those overbearing student loans.

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