Inside the Studio

Liz Barber

What are the major themes you pursue in your work?

I explore the wonder that is nature. My surroundings are constantly changing with the season’s cycle. I am inspired by the transition to each one. Spring brings the first colors after the rest of winter. I love the dramatic storms we experience in the south during spring. Then the heavy heat of summer brings the vivid greens and wide color spectrum found in the lush landscape. Trips to the beach fill me with inspiration. I grew up in a coastal town, Marblehead, Massachusetts, and the ocean has always been one of my biggest influences. Then, fall arrives and the subtle changing leaves burst into an amazing sunset of color. Winter signals the arrival of stark trees cast against the sky like elaborate line drawings.

My paintings are layered bursts of energy that record experience. I blend nature in the here and now with memories or past experiences. Shape, form, and line fall into a sea of emotion. A shape appears first as a reflection, then drifts into volumetric configurations. I attempt to capture the sense of nature with movement and light by creating an artistic metaphor that is both opaque and airy, thick and organic.

I am constantly aware of creating light within the work through color pairings and interactions. I pour colors onto the canvas and then watch what happens. I intuitively edit and add. I don’t know that this method is any different from the Impressionist mindset. I am projecting an emotional response onto my surroundings in a moment captured not necessarily by a pastoral landscape; but rather the glow of the light or the movement of the forms in the painting.

I work in mixed media, which allows for more creative freedom. It is a way to give the materials more of a voice. I use many materials to begin a piece, which can be manipulated and moved around as I form the idea of the painting. Mediums are added in to get the desired consistency in order to allow application that takes my heavy hand out of it. I also use graphite and oil pastel as drawing elements. I love to use mark-making in the painting as a resting place for the eye, as well as to add diversity from the very organic shapes used in my work. Water and mediums are added to the materials to see what happens. I then use hard edges in oil paint to edit finding the gems in the underlying layers.

The shapes I choose are very organic. The theme of my work would be seasons changing, or rather watching what changes around me in my environment. I have a pull toward certain palettes at certain times of the year. I use subtle or intense color interactions in order to create the depth or space in the piece. I am intuitively responding to shapes made as happy accidents or intentionally as final touches. I heighten certain shapes by making them the focal point or hide them beneath other layers to create the sense of a pool of water or an image seen within a wave crashing. My work commands the viewer’s visceral response, one that is not superseded by representational or abstract imagery nor technical analysis.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist? 

The best advice given to me was from one of my professors at Mass Art. “There are no rules in art.” In other words, throw away all your preconceived notions of how things should be. Experiment and have fun finding your voice.

Prefer to work with music or in silence? 

I must have music playing in order to create. Although I am not musical myself, music enables me to easily get into the right headspace to paint. It limbers me up, moves me around and allows me to get lost in my process. The best things happen when I am singing along in that meditative state.

If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be? 

I would choose one of Monet’s “Water Lilies” that fills an entire room. I could gaze endlessly at the color play. The use of abstracted shape and form and color to create a light source amazes me. I believe I could never tire of that.

Who are your favorite writers?

I love Oswald Chambers. His wisdom is deeply touching. He is direct and his words cut like a sword to the heart. I also think that Laura Hillenbrand is wonderful–she paints with words.