We were lucky to catch up with Joel Barr recently and have shared our conversation below.
Alright, Joel thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. Do you wish you had started sooner?
For a good number of years, I regretted that I did not start my full-time creative career much earlier. It did not begin until my 40’s and until I had a half dozen jobs outside the creative world. Now though, I suspect the crooked path leading to my career in the arts had great advantages. For one thing, delaying a jump into the arts gave me years of predictable earnings which helped support a young family and to support my children through college. On the artistic side, however, starting my full-time career in the arts a bit later offered so much life experience which I know is reflected in my art itself and in the business side of this painting career. On balance, I’d say that no, I don’t wish I’d started sooner for those reasons and because, in fact, I was always working at a creative career, writing novels and articles on a part-time basis along with my other work. Starting earlier was never in question for me as I had not considered for a moment that I might be a visual artist. That possibility arose much later.
One thing I do regret from time to time is not being exposed to formal art training as a young person. However, I’ve been blessed with mentors and models along the way and have participated in workshops of all sorts.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers?
I’m an oil painter–a studio artist who paints almost everyday and has done that for almost thirty years. I offer my work through galleries, an active online social media presence, a full and current website, and studio visits. Commission work is always welcome and I love the challenge that always brings.
Though I work with all sorts of content including landscapes, abstracts, and the surreal, there are some common elements which are a strong part of my voice on canvas. First, I love color and am often called a colorist. Patterns regularly appear in my work and sometimes a single painting will have patterns within patterns. I’m also a texturist and the use of oils makes much of that possible. Over time, I’ve returned to surrealism often as I see possibilities in “real” things beyond what is possible in our recognizable lives. There is magic in that exploration for me.
Traveling hand in hand with those characteristics, my work sometimes introduces symbols, important to me, in ways that seem natural for the painting at hand. A green line, for instance, will represent life in its broadest sense. Spheres make regular appearances in my work, often for their beauty and because they can represent perfection and greater powers than we can fully know.. I happily leave it to the viewer to attribute their own meaning to these symbols, just as I hope my work will generate emotion, memory, beauty, and possibility with each look.
I’ve done many paintings creating with color bars. These strips of color are applied with palette knife and they let me employ color and texture repeatedly. As the canvas fills with them, their accumulated power builds and a certain magic results.
A recent move to Savannah in Coastal Georgia has had a profound impact on my work. The rhythms of the tides and the soft motion of the tall grasses in the marshes have changed my palette, bringing different, subtle yellows, browns and greens to my new work. Sunsets here are wonderful and expansive. They’ve left me working on canvas to create new crimsons, oranges and glowing yellows. Though I’ve always been a storyteller in my painting, the history and mysteries of this special place have sharpened my exploration into what this new environment is trying to say.
Here on the coast, and often in my paintings, the waters are in conversation with the sunlight or moonlight. Painting scenes which show that is like listening in on fascinating storytelling shared by friends.
One clear impact of this move is an immediate recognition that the light has deepened, revealing new sub-worlds as it illuminates its warm drama. It has also lead me to explore, for the first time, gold leaf. At first, I thought it would be just another color to add to my palette. Soon it was clear that it has its own story each time I use it and its own meaning for the viewer each time I use it. Though it can be an accent if a painting calls for that, it is can also quite insistent about taking over the content. Gold leaf and I are getting acquainted.
I work in oils exclusively. My introduction to painting was with oils and I never tire of learning all the things that can be done with them. Painting from photos or from life, I will often sketch first on paper and then on canvas. Most other works begin with a single mark, line, or shape on canvas and proceed from there without an initial sketch. Selecting a painting’s size and the choice of brush versus palette knife grow entirely out of some initial vision of what I might want to convey in a new work.
If I were to capsulize what is so special to me about what I do, it might be to say that I do not ever see a blank canvas. The canvas itself has already started talking when I walk into the studio each morning. My hope is that the gratitude and wonder I feel at that first glance will make its way into every painting so that the viewer will share my adventure and head off on their own.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of being creative in your experience?
I believe that we each have an essential creative side to our souls. When I can, I try to encourage an exploration of that in others. While my own joy comes primarily from painting and the visual arts, there are many other ways to feed our instincts to be creative. I want to support all of them.
My primary reward from being an artist is the way I’ve shaped my very living in this world via the arts. I want to be always open to what’s in front of me and what might be. I want to recognize and share the stories in what I see and the beauty that may be found in unlikely places. In essence, the reward is discovery and the joy in knowing that, each day, something new and beautiful might happen if I remain open to it.
Along with that constant surprise, I take great pleasure in sharing, through the canvas, what I am discovering at that moment. Inevitably, a painting will change course as I try to do that. As it does, the vision and discovery get clarified and enhanced. I love to offer that adventure to others through my paintings.
There is a mystery and wonder to what I do and I’m so grateful I get to do it. Imagine: A bunch of chemicals residing in tubes of paint can develop somehow into an entire world on a patch of canvas! Learning that every day is my biggest reward for showing up.
Can you tell us about a time you’ve had to pivot?
I’m a believer and a celebrator of turning the page to new adventure and outlook. Our internal and external worlds are always so much bigger than we can know at any moment so I love exploring what’s new.
My own major career pivot was indeed the leap into the full-time creative world after years as a teacher, city planner, and operator of a family business. It was a starting over and with that change, the challenges of being the raw beginner were great but I never felt them to be anything but natural and welcome.
One important catalyst for me to make that change came from a young cousin whom I did not know well at the time. He asked me what I was doing and I must have answered that I was running a business but not at all crazy about it. “So why are you doing it then?” was his response. Hearing that, I knew I had no good response and had but one thing to do. It took several years to find my way into the a creative career but I began that journey in earnest as soon as he asked that simple and essential question.
- Website: www.joelbarr.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/joelbarr6/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JoelBarrFineArt
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joel-barr-b47b195/
Grace Barr and Joel Barr