There is always the inflection point in a drawing–the point at which it takes on its own presence and becomes more than its content. There is also the point where others view it and it becomes their image. I know that if I create art, these points will occur, and I can work to control part of the process leading up to these points. Ultimately, however, not all of it is mine to control.
Today in my studio, I am establishing another inflection point–a point at which everything changes and the art acts in a new way. I want to isolate this point in an attempt to describe it visually. At this point, the conventional tools and techniques of drawing will meet the new digital tools of drawing. They will meet in the scan of an intricately hand-drawn image that was created specifically for this point. Then, they will part ways like the lines flanking an inflection point on a mathematician’s graph. From this point on, the scan will only exist in the computer because it will become part of a digital drawing; the original paper drawing will be continued from this point by adding layers of ink and graphite–it will no longer exist as it did at the inflection point.
I want the intimacy and precious nature of drawing to meet the new order. At that meeting point, the scan of the drawing will become an enduring memory, a snapshot of the original curve ending and a new one beginning.
As an installation artist, I have two different practices: I create privately in the studio and work on large-scale public art commissions. Here are some thoughts about how I try to balance these two ways of working — the open-ended studio process and the structure of site and client in the public art world.
In the Studio:
I begin by “doodling” with materials. I usually don’t have a plan, but I have something in my head that interests me. Recently I’ve been looking at tall grasses with slender stems that sway in the wind. As I’m working, I try to translate thoughts and images into material form.
Often I create a modular unit and repeat it, altering it slightly each time. As the elements accumulate and the installation takes shape, I think about the mood or ambience of the piece and how people will experience the space as they walk through it. The materials I use are translucent or reflective, so they do interesting things with light and shadow.
The “Luminous Garden” series is a good example of my current indoor light installations. These glowing environments are inspired by nature but made entirely of man made materials–cast resin seedpods, LEDs, wire, and electronics. I use the magic of light to create spaces that are experiential and immersive, involving viewers as participants. Here are two images of the gardens: “Luminous Garden” 2003 and “Luminous Garden” 2009. The pieces evolved organically over time through a process of improvisation, rather than being planned in advance.
“Luminous Garden” 2003
“Luminous Garden” 2009
The Public Art Process:
When developing a public art concept, I need to consider certain “givens”: How is the idea appropriate to the client, site, time frame, and budget? Hopefully, these constraints are useful and I don’t put myself in a box. I try to satisfy the needs of the project and remember my own personal need to be playful and loose, as I am in the studio. That’s where the best work comes from. Then the challenge is to hold onto the beauty of the concept and not let it be compromised as I adapt to twists and turns in the process.
Right now, I’m working on two permanent public art commissions: “Sound Wave” at Music City Center in Nashville, Tennessee; and “Prairie Grass” at Northwest Service Center in San Antonio, Texas. Here is computer rendering of “Sound Wave,” a 120 foot long suspended sculpture made of undulating metal forms with computer-controlled blue LED lights.
It’s based on the image of a sound wave and a musical staff with notes. A sequence of lighting changes ripple through the space as people pass through.
I’m trying to bring aspects of my private practice into these public works. How to involve light and magic as I do in the “Luminous Gardens”? How to use nature as an inspiration? How can I engage viewers so they are immersed in the environment? I want these projects to be as personal and rich as my studio work.
What do I like best about public art? Learning about new places, meeting new people, and creating an artwork that becomes a part of peoples’ daily lives.
Can I combine the best of public and private worlds? Stay tuned…I’ll let you know when these pieces are installed in the spring of 2013.
Barnhart Studio, a castle of metal and cinderblock, is tucked into a Mesa residential area. When I ring the doorbell, an unassuming man in a t-shirt opens the door: William Barnhart.
After a brief introduction, I am given a tour of the studio. William starts from the foundation of the building. From the tile work on the bathroom walls to the welding on the doors, most of the fixtures in the building are made from recycled materials, and they are all William Barnhart’s handiwork.
The very studio where William works is a reminder that art sometimes requires more than a table and chisel or paintbrush. The studio resembles a mechanic’s garage, a zone under construction, where a plaster sculpture waits to be completed. When I ask how long it takes to finish a project, William says, “It takes as long as it takes.” He shows me the swinging cranes that lift heavy materials, the giant fan he traded a painting for, and a room he is working on.
We walk and talk, and then we sit down in his office and talk about his work and about art in general. The following is a recreation of part of our conversation:
Superstition Review: Have you worked with art galleries?
William Barnhart: I did for a time, but not anymore. Art galleries insulate the artist from the clients, because if the client and the artist are communicating, there really is no need for the art gallery. I like the communication with my clients. I can put my studio down anywhere, and my clients will come to me.
SR:That’s true, you have an actual client-artist relationship. What kind of mediums and materials do you work with?
WB: I do prints, paintings, sculpture. I like working with bronze, making sculptures. You know, bronze, it’ll be around for generations.
SR:I read that the sculpture you recently finished has gold on it. Do you think the value of the materials you use adds something to your work?
WB: I definitely want to use quality materials in my work. It’s not necessarily the value of the materials but the quality of them.
SR: I know some artists try to make social commentary with their art. What would you say is the message you are trying to convey with your art?
WB: Social commentary is definitely not the focus of my work. I want my art to be universal, to transcend the bounds of time. It’s more about relationship issues, about human emotions and the drama of the figure. It’s about the human experience.
We discuss other things, such as his creative process and why he chose that particular area to place his studio. But when I take leave of William Barnhart, print-maker, designer, painter, sculptor—with “more stripes than the tigers,” to use his words—what lingers most in my mind is the image of the high-domed building, the living space, the vibrant place of craft that is itself a work of art.
For more information about William Barnhart’s studio and his work, visit his website.