Barber Uses Both Canvas and Skin To Blur the Lines Between Fine Art and Tattoos
(Shreveport, LA) Once seldom seen on anyone other than biker babes, sideshow freaks and old salts, the tattoo has become a $1.65 billion dollar industry and today is proudly displayed as fine art in galleries from London to San Francisco as well as on 36% of all U.S. Millennial adults. On August 25th, renowned Ringling College of Art oil painter, illustrator and teacher turned tattoo artist, Shawn Barber, will open his exhibit of tattoo painting and portraiture at artspace in downtown Shreveport.
Barber documents contemporary tattoo culture through painting and portraiture that showcases inked individuals with a mixture of careful brushstrokes and dripping pigment. He has taught illustration, drawing, painting and the business of art at various universities including his alma mater Ringling College of Art in Sarasota, FL and the Academy of Art’s and the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Barber’s portrait of President Obama was on the cover of The Wall Street Journal and his illustrations have appeared in The Rolling Stone and in various newspapers, magazines and on record labels. He has shown his paintings in galleries around the world from Queensland, Australia to London to Houston. His commercial clients have included American Airlines, Converse, The Grammy Awards, Harley Davidson, Target and Scholastic Books.
After years of paying homage to the art of tattooing through his portraiture, it was a logical progression to add tattooist to his resume. Barber’s friends Bryan Bancroft and artist and tattooist Henry Lewis encouraged him, and he picked up a tattoo machine and began as an apprentice with Mike Davis at Everlasting Tattoo. He has learned from and been tattooed by some of the best tattoo artists in the world. He travels often to both tattoo conventions and to show his art and admits that he struggles to balance his passion for painting and tattooing.
When asked why he chose Shreveport in which to show his art, Barber said, "My friend Wayne Martin Belger has worked with the Shreveport Regional Arts Council and has told me quite a bit about Shreveport artspace and the folks in Shreveport. I am looking forward to sharing my artwork in a part of the U.S. that I haven't yet visited and experiencing the city and its food and culture."
One of the highlights of Barber's Shreveport artspace exhibit will be a nine-paneled triptych measuring 72 inches in height entitled “Portrait of the Artist, Shige” that features an extended look at how tattoos can completely cloak the skin with their colorful designs. Barber has also painted a few pieces specifically for his Shreveport exhibit including Jiro's Workshop Bunker, Portrait of the Artist Freddy Corbin and Gill Montie's Hands. He is also showing two pieces at this exhibit that have never been shown before--Vanitas (Homage to Greg Irons) and Portrait of the Artist, Tin-tin.
Barber was a student of local Moonbot Studios creative director Limbert Fabian at Ringling College of Art. “Shawn Barber holds up a magnifying glass to the personalities and tools of other artists. His portraits are studies that aim to capture a hint of history and aura about their subject,” recalled Fabian. Moonbot Studios CCO and partner Brandon Oldenburg also remembers Barber from his years at Ringing. “I remember being incredibly impressed by the skill and confidence of Barber’s early works,” said Oldenburg.
Barber explains that his fine art work and his tattoo art work are two completely different art forms. "Drawing and painting," says Barber, "are typically wet and/or dry mediums applied to a two dimensional surface with the opportunity to play and experiment to no end, adding and subtracting the amount of medium with no potential limit or time frame." In describing tattooing, Barber differentiates the two art forms by explaining, "Tattooing must be a deliberate medium that is applied to a living, breathing (and sometimes bleeding) three dimensional surface." Barber adds, "Any mark that you make on the skin will be permanent, for the most part, and your hand can only move at a certain speed and motion to maintain a specific mark or line in the skin and the skin has many variables--skin tone, age, leanness. You have to consider and compensate for all of those variables."
Local tattoo artist Micah Harold, owner of Red Handed Tattoo, is very excited about having Shawn Barber and his exhibit open at artspace. "To see the real art of tattooing exemplified in Shawn Barber's portraiture and in his actual work as a master tattooer is a rare opportunity," said Harold. "Barber's work is known and respected in the world of art and the world of tattooing for his versatility and his ability to create in all major genres of tattoo--Japanese, traditional American or sailor style and new traditional American. People need to see his art to see the level of work they should expect when the a tattoo is done by a master tattooer," added Harold.