September Art Exhibit: barry johnson's 'Anything is Anything'

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Check out our September art exhibit with the work of barry johnson, titled, ‘Anything is Anything’. Read barry’s artist statement and our interview with him, and see his work all month at Alma Mater!

barry johnson returns to Tacoma for another visual art show at Alma Mater featuring a brand new body of work featuring paintings, installations, sculptures and mixed-media work. This entire new body work was created in 2019 and is focused on identity and the Black experience within the U.S. barry's work, created entirely with house paint, was created in the wake of events happening in the political landscape, results of police brutality and social injustices and were reimagined on canvases. Some imagery features bold scores to combat the dark light placed on Black people within the media. Another combines paintings with found objects to create new narratives using glass, fans, wood and more as a comment into the unseen and underrepresented. Sculptures feature broken crowns crushed and submerged into volcanic ash and ember.

barry johnson is a self-taught interdisciplinary artist who creates work about race, community and culture. He’s held residencies throughout the Puget Sound region as well as Hawaii, Tulum and Argentina as well. barry recently authored and illustrated a children’s book titled, Oh What Wonderful hair, and self-published in (2017). barry has also spoken at a TEDx event in 2018 about the power of creating multiple personas to aid you in your career.  He has received multiple grants and awards including the Edwin T. Pratt Award, smART Ventures award, the 2018 GAP Award and he was a finalist for the Conductive Garboil Grant in 2018. Currently barry resides in Federal Way but is native to Topeka, Kansas.  

I noticed that you keep your name lowercase intentionally. Is this by chance a nod to bell hooks and/or her reasoning to do the same? Does this have anything to do with your TEDxSeattle Talk about the power of channeling different personas?

Ahhhhh, great, great catch there. Similar to bell, I lowercased my name to distinguish my identity as an artists from every previous version of myself. While it was such a small change, it was extremely liberating to shed the capitalization of my name. It gave me freedom and I felt as if I had a rocket on my back for me to go out and become something new. Names have always been capitalized since I can remember and stepping away from that norm made me feel like I was going into a place of the wrong. By that, I mean people would approach me as an artists already thinking I made a mistake. "Oh, looks like you misspelled your name, wait, you keep your name like that on purpose, why?" This why from the outset makes me approach my work with the same view. Why use acrylic or oil paint? I'll just use house paint because I can work faster with it. Why can't I take glass, wood, fabric or other objects and just gorilla glue it to the canvas, etc... The why drives so much of my work and the creation of it.

Speaking of your TEDx Talk, you mention your regimented start to becoming an artist, getting up at 3am and watching Youtube to learn how to draw. Are you completely self-taught, and when did you begin this journey?

Yep, yep. everything that I learned came from the university of the internet and books. I treated everything like a daily habit. There was no way possible that I would get better unless I was persistent. My bus commute took at least an 1 1/2 everyday to work. I'd be drawing non-stop from the moment I got on the bus up until I reached my stop. I'd do the same thing on the way home. That's around 15-hours of drawing a week for a year+. Am I stellar at drawing, not at all, but I got the hang of it enough sketch out ideas and further refine them. I also think that by not going to school, I have a certain comfortability with making mistakes and exploring. I never learned the basics of art, an understanding of how to look at it, or how pictures and colors should be constructed, so I just go off of a feeling. Why use charcoal when I can use iron oxide, The hand doesn't look super accurate, so just draw more attention to the details in clothing, Making folds in clothing is hard, so just spread as much color around and hopefully no one will notice the lack in details. These are the things I'm saying when constructing work.

Who are you inspirations, artistic and/or otherwise?

I vibe with so many different people across different mediums. Really, I'm just an energy person. If someone's output is dope and they have meaning and purpose behind it, it'll move me to make something. I've made art more art based off of moments and conversations than I have looking at works created by other people. Every Thursday night when new albums drop on Tidal, I sit in my studio and let an entire album play while I work. I don't skip any songs and I think about it like, I'm creating right alongside another artists creating. I'm just capturing the energy they used to make a body of work and try to do that myself.

Also, I really like getting in the car with the fam and riding around just to take in the energy. We'll just get in the car and start driving with no destination and just everything flow. At the top of the year, we drove to California in one night because I knew what I wanted to accomplish for the year within my work, but I didn't know exactly how I was going to get there. After driving for 13-hour straight we pulled over for the night and I was like, "dang, it's like right, right there, but it hasn't come to me yet." The next day we kept driving south and while riding close to San Jose, boom, I saw a flash of red and for a moment, I felt like everything had a red filter on it. It was the way the sun was reflecting off of the land and the absence of trees. I was like, I'm going to spend the year in red. I came back home and began painting in red and embracing this idea of heat and intensity that red brings. That's kind of how inspiration and energy work for me.

I do have some art inspirations like Robert Rauschenberg, Augusta Savage, Bacon, Gordon Parks, Jacob Lawrence, Matisse and Marina Abramovic. I really, really dig their work and approach and think of them often whenever I'm working.

Join barry for the third Thursday art walk to hear about the creation of the works and more on Sept. 19 at 7:00 p.m.

For more information about the show and inquires please contact barry johnson info@barryjohnson.co or (206-790-1568).