Artspan sits down with collage artist Gerald Barnes
Your collages are like boxes of memories. How do you choose your images? Are any of them specific to your life? Your own relatives? Or are they historical figures?
The images I use reflect the things that interest me – art, literature, architecture, history, travel, graphic design and the human condition. I have a large library of material that I’ve collected over the years, ephemera, old magazines and newspapers, stamps and notes. I also use my own drawings and photographs. Usually I select one particular image and then build around that. I have in the past used family photos but there are only so many times you can use Grandma and Grandpa! Some images are of historical figures. Mario García Menocal was President of Cuba from 1913 -1921 and looked like a Hollywood movie star.
Numbers Series #79
When I was little, the illustrations in certain books gave me so much pleasure I would pore over them for hours, and the characters became almost as real as friends. Did you have books like that? What were they? Which artists have inspired your work?
There weren’t many picture books around when I was growing up, so my exposure to imagery and stories came from comic books, the Sunday funnies, a dry encyclopedic set of folk tales illustrated with line drawings, and magazine features like National Geographic’s spreads on Egyptian artifacts and the Bayeux Tapestry. I did love libraries though, and I was a huge fan of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries. It wasn’t until college that I discovered—a revelation!—the world of picture books, where words and pictures are so delightfully intertwined. Much later, because of an interest in Jungian psychology, I began reading folk and fairy tales and understanding that they were much more than simple entertainment. I have stories that I pore over now as an adult, and the majority of artists that I admire are from what has been called the Golden Age of Illustration: Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Beatrix Potter, Aubrey Beardsley and others. There are contemporary illustrators that I am in awe of too, including Lisbeth Zwerger, Gennady Spirin, Angela Barrett, Maurice Sendak and Edward Gorey. On the Fine Art side of influences, I’m drawn to artists who have used line, color and composition masterfully to tell stories on a larger scale, including Paul Gauguin, Edgar Degas, Gustaf Klimt, and Andrew Wyeth. There are so many past and present narrative-inspired artists working in both intimate and large scale…truly a feast for an artist’s soul.
Eric Sparre, Director of Artspan, the site which combines branded sites with an online gallery, argues that for visual artists, the internet is taking up where commercial galleries leave off. However, the two can work together
Once upon a time, establishing a career seemed a simple matter for visual artists. First: secure gallery representation. Then: back to the studio. Let the gallery worry about sales, which were sure to come and at steadily increasing prices.
Of course, the process was never that simple. Then, as now, dealers were often reluctant to take on new artists. But with no serious alternative, most working artists had no choice other than to keep knocking on the same doors. And even with representation, there was no guarantee of success: galleries could control client lists, veto outside opportunities, hold payments on sales, and dictate the extent of publicity. For artists without representation, particularly older artists, prospects were even bleaker.
The advent of the Internet has brought empowerment. Alongside social media, artists now use the web in two main ways: by creating personal, branded websites to promote their work as they please, and by using online galleries to show work for sale, joining other artists and/or makers (Saatchiart and Etsy are prominent examples of online galleries).
An image of a human being is never as simple as it seems. A painting or photograph of a person raises a million questions, sometimes overt, often hidden, frequently without logical answer. Every portrait creates many pictures; of the subject, of the artist, and of each individual who views it. The most intimate portrait of a loved one becomes distanced and anonymous once it is “art,” once it is shared. If the subject is nude, whether in an old master’s oil painting or crowded onto a page of internet porn, a whole array of terms spring to mind: objectification, voyeurism, exhibitionism. We think about possession, desire, changing ideals of beauty and health. We think about the unknowable thoughts moving through the head of this anonymous figure frozen, static, in a moment in time. In the history of art, of course, it was men painting women, and owning paintings of women, and women submitting passively to their gaze. But all of this is changing as artists start to question what it means to look and to be looked at, what it means to capture beauty and desire.
Four Artspan artists question what it means to portray the human body and face.
Sharon VanStarkenburg‘s images are beautiful and challenging, and she says, “As of late I am becoming increasingly overt in the feminist messaging in my paintings. I am compelled to produce work that resides in the push and pull area between empowerment and subjugation; slipping, falling, kicking, hitting and flailing into each side.
An interview with Artspan member Andrew K. Currey.
Your work seems to strike a balance between armor/shells/protection and vulnerability. Is that a fair assessment? Is that something calculated, if so, what inspires it, and to what effect?
A lot of my work from the past two years deals with the concept of armoring and self-preservation. I have always been interested in European medieval history and was especially interested in the ornate craftsmanship of different armor. This led me to considering the physiological need for protecting oneself. We all have elements of our mental, emotional, or spiritual self we feel the desire to protect. The armored knight became a perfect metaphor for discussing these acts of self-preservation. This theme of varying levels of defense was the subject of my solo show at the Bolsky Gallery in Los Angeles in 2014, titled In Defense.