Thursday, October 17, 2013

Barry Lee paints people who are not Barry Lee

Posted By on Thu, Oct 17, 2013 at 3:40 PM

Barry Lee has a thing for bold patterns, funk music, and Ron Swanson. These People Aren't Barry Lee is the illustrators first portrait show. Lee has a playful nature and affinity for loud colors and sharp angles. A particular strength that brings a nostalgic quality to even the most recent of references. Lee's portraits are currently on display at Octane Westside and will be up through the end of November. This Saturday at 8 p.m., he will host a reception where limited edition prints will be available for purchase that night only. There will be a vinyl DJ set and a chance to meet the artist.

Tell me about your show.
The event at Octane Westside consists of 12 portraits. Each portrait I made with acrylic paints and a few digital collage elements. I've got a range of icons from Prince all the way to Walter White. There's a wide variety of different pop-culture characters and actors with accompanying patterns that express the essence of those characters.

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've recently started doing merchandise and gig posters for local bands like The Head. What's that been like?
I think my work translates to that very well. I like collaboration a lot. I would like to collaborate with more people. It goes back to working with people and meeting people. Working with musicians just gives me an excuse to be involved with other aspects of the arts.

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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