Briefly describe the work you do.
My paintings are the products of a difficult world filtered through my genetically sunny disposition. I sometimes see them as dispatches from the borderland between happy denial and grim reality.
Much of my work is about the collision of the built and natural worlds, about conflicts in which outcomes are uncertain. These paintings use humor to variously address threats presented by development, natural and human-made disaster, greed or obliviousness.
I am sometimes perplexed by the number and intensity of animals in much of my recent work. I don’t think of myself as an animal person, but have concluded that on some level I must identify with animals, particularly small wild ones—adorable, understood by few and ultimately alone in a complex, fast-moving world.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I grew up in a modest, slightly out-there household in Baltimore, with artists scattered throughout my extended family. We started out as Orthodox Jews, but by the time I was five or six, my parents drifted to—well, I’m not really sure what they drifted too. It wasn’t agnosticism, probably more like don’t-bother-me-I’m-trying-to-read-this-book-ism.
The notion of feeling too odd to be conventional yet too conventional to be odd probably began here, and has pervaded pretty much everything I do. It made me a perpetual outsider, an observer and misinterpreter of idioms, cliches and customs.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
Well, I make paintings that result from stories concocted in my head; you can’t get more “in the studio” than that. I also do a lot of research of the sort that used to occur in libraries, but most of that now takes place in the studio as well. Otherwise, I am an aimless stroller—not quite a flaneur—and see the world as my studio and research field.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I did not anticipate writing about art. I still don’t anticipate it, but somehow it keeps happening. I write for the local paper once or twice a month and for national or regional publications on rare occasion.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
At the moment, I’m working in my studio several hours a day most days, until my hand cramps or some other body part gives out. Mornings are best; it’s when I’m most alert and the light is good.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
For years, I did miniscule works in sets and series, creating piles of individual pieces per year. But when the economy tanked, my vision turned into inventory—work went out to exhibitions and it all came back. So I began doing larger, more labor-intensive paintings that take about two months each to complete. The work has also become more heavily patterned, which I think is the result of living for the past decade in the Carolinas, with their rich craft and textiles traditions. Right now, I’m trying to loosen up.
Whatever the format, my work is always about pretty pictures and ugly subjects.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
I am inspired by authors who write about people in places where they have no business being. Peter Mattheisson’s At Play in the Fields of the Lord and Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky are very much on my mind right now.
But wandering here and there is an even bigger influence. Also plants. I am a cheerful, semi-competent gardener and tend my tiny intown yard only to have it assaulted every few weeks by weather, drunks and dogs. But birds love it and visit all day; I like them so much better than people, except when they are attacking each other.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
Perhaps something having to do with ornamental horticulture or clinical psychology. I hope the reasons are evident in my work.
Barbara’s exhibitions include PS 1, the High Museum of Art, Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, SPACE Pittsburgh, the Weatherspoon Museum of Art, Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, Telfair Museum of Art, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, Barbara Archer Gallery, Atlanta, Joie Lassiter Gallery, Charlotte, and other venues.
In addition to her work as an artist, Barbara can sometimes be pestered into writing about visual art. Her reviews, articles and navel staring have appeared in Art Papers, Metalsmith, Sculpture Magazine, Creative Loafing Charlotte, The Charlotte Observer and other publications.
Barbara was born in Baltimore MD and earned a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art. After a significant amount of time in Atlanta GA, she wound up in Charlotte NC in 2004. She is thinking about the next place to land.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.