Artist Interview: Barry A. Conner

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Q&A With The Artist

What are your ear­li­est mem­o­ries relat­ed to art?
 I remem­ber going to muse­ums with my par­ents as a kid. I also was fas­ci­nat­ed with wildlife, and would study the illus­tra­tion plates in many dif­fer­ent field guides.
How and when did you start becom­ing an artist yourself?
 I’ve been told that I nev­er stopped draw­ing and paint­ing from my ear­li­est child­hood for­ward, but one of my ear­li­est mem­o­ries are of cre­at­ing an illus­trat­ed book­let about dinosaurs when I was maybe five or six. (I still have it. It was drawn on mani­la con­struc­tion paper in col­ored pen­cil, and put togeth­er using brass brads.) By age nine, my par­ents had giv­en me a set of acrylic paints, and I was churn­ing out sheet can­vas paint­ings of birds select­ed from the Petersen field guide and a vol­ume of the works of John James Audubon.
What was the evo­lu­tion like toward find­ing your cur­rent voice and visu­al vocabulary?
 I’d have to say that my artis­tic expres­sion is the cumu­la­tive inte­gra­tion of my life­time of work as an artist: my obser­va­tion of nature and atten­tion to detail as a child, as well as my young per­fec­tion­ism for authen­tic real­ism. As a teenag­er, I dab­bled in sur­re­al­ism. In col­lege, I tapped more ful­ly into my artis­tic abil­i­ties through Bette Edwards’ book Draw­ing on the Right Side of the Brain. As a mural­ist, I dis­cov­ered new artis­tic lib­er­ty, expres­sive­ness, and spon­tane­ity in paint­ing quick­ly on a large-scale. I still seem to grav­i­tate toward the aes­thet­ic excel­lence evi­dent in the nat­ur­al world, in the things I see which make an impact on me. But my art is extreme­ly diverse. One of my favorite works, “Hope Endures” is com­plete­ly abstract. Anoth­er favorite, “Sur­re­al Sun­rise”, is a strik­ing­ly abstract and heav­i­ly styl­ized land­scape with band­ed swirling col­ors for the sun­rise. Some of my work is a cathar­tic unveil­ing, orig­i­nat­ing in and express­ing what is an emo­tion­al­ly charged sub­ject which is occu­py­ing my atten­tion at the time. And although some art­work calls for incor­po­rat­ing ele­ments or aes­thet­ics which might be unap­peal­ing, I’ve always had an affin­i­ty for beau­ty in art, as is appar­ent from most of my work. My present works are promi­nent­ly large and expres­sive paint­ings, not over-worked, not stiff, more heavy on the visu­al aspects than on any con­cep­tu­al agenda.
What is your process like?
 My process varies. Many of my pieces — many of the paint­ings, any­way — are cre­at­ed whol­ly from my imag­i­na­tion, and devel­oped on the fly on the sub­strate. Some­times I choose to “loosen up” through fast sketch­ing until I feel that every­thing is “click­ing” for me, and com­ing togeth­er just as I want it to, before I begin a ses­sion of paint­ing. And oth­er times I take a more delib­er­a­tive approach, lay­ing out the forms and pro­por­tions and key points care­ful­ly, light­ly sketch­ing them onto the can­vas. I may then pro­ceed using a slight­ly impas­to tech­nique for the under­paint­ing basecoat, allow­ing my brush­strokes to car­ry over the crit­i­cal place­ment of these forms. I often step away from my work, or even walk away alto­geth­er, to see it as a whole, with fresh eyes. I usu­al­ly let the work itself have a role in deter­min­ing how a paint­ing devel­ops. I don’t try to force it to look a cer­tain way. It’s more of a process of dis­cov­er­ing the piece as it begins to take shape. Final­ly, I can just tell when it looks right, or if some­thing seems off. So I’ll make adjust­ments as I go, and fin­ish up with such details, tex­tur­al illu­sion, and light-source nuances as need­ed until it looks right to me, but stop­ping myself before a piece might oth­er­wise be over worked. Some pieces might begin to approach nat­ur­al real­ism, such as “Majesty in Win­ter Skies”. Oth­ers are com­plete while still very loose. I don’t set rules or meth­ods for myself. If I’ve envi­sioned the paint­ing ahead of time, I still just let its devel­op­ment deter­mine where I go with it.
Is there any­thing from your artist state­ment that you wish to expound on, that you nor­mal­ly don’t have the chance to discuss?
 Not real­ly, no.
What do you try to con­trol in your sur­faces, and what do you leave to chance?
 Col­or is impor­tant to me. So, if ele­ments of the piece are col­or­ful, I try to retain the max­i­mum vibrance and sat­u­ra­tion of the purest pos­si­ble col­oration appro­pri­ate to those ele­ments. I also like tex­ture in my paint­ing sur­faces. While some ele­ments do call for smooth sur­faces, such as the sub­tle gra­di­ents of a cloud­less sky — and I will work to achieve this — oth­er­wise, I don’t shy away from brush­strokes! “Hope Endures” con­tains a great deal of black pig­ment, but I used paints for mat­te areas of the paint­ing and glossy areas as well, and used heavy impas­to for the sur­face treat­ment, in some ele­ments stri­at­ed, and in oth­ers very rugged and rocky. I gen­er­al­ly shun var­nish­es, as I’ve seen far too many paint­ings by oth­er artists dulled and yel­lowed over time. My expres­sive approach to paint­ing leaves much to chance. If it works, it stays.
Where do you see your work going from here?
 I just want to paint more. There’s so much inside of me that I want to com­mit to can­vas, or to some medi­um of art­work. I have so many paint­ings I’ve already made plans for, and so many already in the works. I want my work to speak to peo­ple, whether to delight, chal­lenge, or inspire, depend­ing on the piece. I strive to make each new piece my best work yet. It may be the curse of the artist, but I can always envi­sion some­thing yet more impact­ful and sub­lime. There is much I have yet to say with my art, I only hope that I’m afford­ed the time to do so.