Your portfolio reminds me of 1950s/1960s early claymation. There's lots of structured shapes, bright colors and funky patterns. Is that period an inspiration for you, or is it just my imagination?
I really am inspired by a lot of vintage illustration. Another major point of my inspiration is The Muppets. All of the distinct noses separated by mix-matched colors. I'm influenced by the design of that. I take a lot from The Muppets,'50s illustration and Picasso.
It's weird trying to explain to non-artists the connections between all of the arts and how most artists draw inspiration from them in a very serious way, really thinking about the cultural context and its depictions of the human condition.
Exactly. For me, it goes back to being a kid and watching a lot of television and movies. And just being genuinely interested in movies. I like to talk to people; I'm very social. And I think part of that comes into play when I'm painting and drawing people. I'm always interested in people because they allow you to create a lot of interesting color palettes. I love using a lot of weird, funky, neon colors, and interesting people make that possible. There are times when I paint one portrait for 5 hours straight and just pile colors on top of colors. They become multi-layered; just like people. That's when I get to have fun.
You're finishing up your fine art degree at SCAD Atlanta. What is it like studying art in an academic/critique-driven environment?
It was a new experience for me, but I handled it pretty well. Being around others who just drew pictures, instead of skateboarding and hanging out at the beach gave me reassurance that other people were doing this too. It made me feel like this is what I'm meant to do.
You were born with Nager acrofacial dysostosis. Does that show up on the canvas?
I'm completely post-Nager's, I think. I'm very lucky because my case is mild. Growing up with the physical differences, like having eight fingers, caused me a lot of angst. My earlier pieces definitely reflected those feelings and overcoming that aspect of my life. A teacher of mine recognized that my attitude and work had evolved past that, and that helped me realize that, yeah, I was. My current projects reflect that growth and happiness, too.
What's next for Barry Lee?
More freelance work, I hope. Closer to the end of the year I'll have some pieces in a '90s-themed group show. I don't want to say too much, but stay tuned for more information about that.
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