Daniel Barrow: on art, style and Power Ball XIX

May 24, 2017

On June 1, the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery will hold its annual fundraiser, Power Ball XIX: Stereo Vision, presented by Max Mara.

For this year’s theme—Stereo Vision—the organizers promise that party-goers will deconstruct the hidden, varied, alternate, illusionary and disparate aspects of our world that may exist parallel to our own.

FAJO had a chance to chat with Daniel Barrow, a Canadian artist who will be a General Party Artist at the event, who provided us a preview of his work for the Ball. Here is what he told us.

Daniel Barrow will be participating in Power Ball this year, showcasing two project pieces: Learning to Breathe Underwater and House on Fire.

How did you realize that you wanted to become an artist? 

I had the talent to draw from a very early age, and so I always had praise for my skill. This meant that I quickly adopted the identity of an artist.

Which classical painters would you say have influenced your style the most?

I think Jean-Antoine Watteau is the painter who has had the greatest impact on my life and work. He was also, inarguably, one of history’s greatest drawers.

Drawing has, for whatever reason, always interested me more than painting. I regularly come back to Watteau’s “three chalk” technique. I also love his melancholic renderings of Pierrot from the Commedia dell’Arte. It could be argued that he was the first to paint the sad clown. Beauty often moves people to tears but Watteau’s paintings effect this process in reverse. Quite a feat, I think.

Barrow is inspired by comic books and films. This mix can be seen throughout his work.

Being a Canadian artist, how have Canadian national aesthetic and style influenced your artistic vision?

That’s a hard one. I’ve never been able to pin down a Canadian national aesthetic in contemporary art. I grew up in Manitoba and my work has often been lumped into what is generally described as “prairie gothic,” but I’m not sure how useful that term really is. There are individual Canadian artists who have inspired and influenced me, but I’ve never invested anything in a nationalistic identity.

Your works are very referential: they range from symbols from ancient Greek iconography to using Medieval composition, combined with surrealistic imagery and contemporary pop/comic book images. How do you choose these details and characters to come together in your artworks?

I’m an artist who takes inspiration from everywhere. Comic books and film are my two primary points of inspiration and reference.

Recently, I’ve been very interested in Egyptian hieroglyphs, especially as they relate to contemporary emoticons and emoji chains. I’ve always been drawn to the idea of emoticons and have enjoyed the progressive integration of small pictures into language.

As teenagers increasingly employ texting as their primary mode of communication, I fear our culture may actually lose the ability to express oneself artfully through speech, facial expression and gesture. I predict texting will become increasingly pictorial as a result. I’m fascinated by this evolution, especially as it relates to petroglyphs, hieroglyphs and logographic writing systems. Recently, I have combined some of the references you mentioned to create a series of emoticon poems.

Your artwork definitely evokes nostalgia. Do you think that, in a certain way, nostalgia is a feature of today’s culture?

I am definitely a nostalgic person. A lot of my artwork over the course of my career has resulted from an attempt to recreate vaguely recollected memories from childhood. I think a lot of artists work this way, whether they realize it or not.

Barrow says one of his greatest artist influences is Jean-Antoine Watteau, and he regularly finds himself coming back to the “three chalk technique”.

What should guests expect from you at the upcoming Power Ball? 

The curators for this year’s Power Ball have asked me to install my registered projection pieces Learning to Breathe Underwater and House on Fire.

Learning to Breathe Underwater is a composited, and projected image of a prince having sex with a mermaid on a canopy bed. It’s, in a way, part of my re-imagining of the Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid story. The piece is made using three video projections and five overhead projections. The drapery of a canopy bed is projected through dishes of water animated by fans. The viewer uses an aluminum “slipping slide” fastened to an overhead projector to activate the act of intercourse between the prince and the mermaid.

House on Fire is a registered projection of a large Kleenex bow with a never-ending plume of tissue extending into the rafters. This piece is also interactive in that the viewer will choose the pattern that decorates the tissue box.

Since FAJO is a fashion magazine, I wanted to ask how would you describe your personal style? Is the style of your art reflected in your fashion sense? 

I’ve thought about this. I love fashion and there’s absolutely cross over between my person, style and art.

When I watch Project Runway, I project myself into the position of the celebrity guest who acts as the contestants’ muse for a particular challenge. I wonder how I would describe my personal style references to the competing designers. Think of a demented, gay farmer from the 1920s… A small-town gay boy’s conception of the Baroque?

I would say Quentin Crisp is my primary style icon. He described himself as a blazing, technicolor rash on the streets of 1930s austere London. That seems like an admirable fashion goal.

By Darina Granik
Photography by / courtesy of Daniel Barrow

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