Seedy comfortability. Kind of like having a tender medium rare porterhouse at Carl’s Chop House on a late rainy Thursday night. Or, if you prefer, how sweet the dollar fifty Pabst was at that greasy little bar on Michigan Ave, you know the one that had that jukebox that only had about ten songs in it; dancing with that one ex-girlfriend who always smelled like cigarettes and Aqua-Net, but looked so damned hot in fishnets and leather. Glenn Barr’s collection of works are so well executed and feel so comfortable, so familiar, that one can’t help but to become enveloped within them. Using layer upon layer of thin acrylic glazes, Barr creates an ambiance and communicates a mood that invites the viewer to step closer and simply enjoy.
While it is probably true that most artists are born with a certain amount of talent, most in their lifetime never experience that right mix of influential ingredients to allow their mash of experiences to ferment and distill into a rare and intoxicating vintage. As a child, thanks to older brothers and their friends, Glenn Barr had ample exposure to wide array of influences and experiences that he would later use as part of a broad artistic foundation. Exposure at a very young age to Mad Magazine’s Jack Davis and Harvey Kurtzman, breathing in the intoxicating aroma of Testors plastic cement while building the latest miniature plastic automotive offering from Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, and of course the scheduled Saturday morning appointments with Mr. Hanna and Mr. Barbera and their mini-skirt and pink tight clad animated dolls, all sparked a wild imagination within him and a drive to create.
Today Glenn Barr is involved with almost every facet of artistic creation, from painting and printing, to design and publication. From his Detroit studio, Barr took a break from his daunting schedule and set aside an afternoon to talk about his art and the release of his third book in as many years, Glenn Barr’s Haunted Paradise. Upon entry, his studio overflows with a lifetime of influences, from an army of vintage toys, samples of pulp art, to antique furniture and shelves of literature; all used in some assistance as reminders or mile markers to what has past and what still may lie ahead. The first impression one receives is that Barr doesn’t rest, he must always be working, there just appears to be too much for one person to do. In one corner an almost finished 4 x 5 foot commissioned work rests on an easel while a pallet of wet acrylic paint dries in the warm air, a small just completed painting rests on a table next to a small painted wooden character that is begging for attention. Barr offers, “My contemporaries are getting into toys, Baseman, Tim Biscup, and I even have my toys in the works right now. The toy I’m having made right now is a very primitive toy, I was really influenced by really crude wood toys.” If you know Barr’s work, you are sure that you know the small bug-like wooden character and it will seem familiar and friendly. That is how Barr likes to work, getting into your psyche via subliminal imagery; using things that you are sure you have seen before, but just can’t finger when and where. For this reason, Barr’s abilities as a commercial artist are still at a premium, “I’m still involved in commercial illustration because I have a lot of friends in business and music and whenever they call me to do rock posters, CD covers or t-shirt designs, I love doing that stuff. While there is no money in it, I like the medium a lot.”
An alumnus of the Center for Creative Studies, Barr was fortunate enough to study under the legendary Russell Keeter, but also found himself lured into the realm of the school’s strong design departments. Barr admits, “Yeah, I used to like going into those classes and learn their tricks they use to make their drawings look cool. I liked it because there is a certain beauty in them, the shiny curvy lines… I really love design and I love composition. Anytime I’m asked to design something, I really get off on that. I have even been asked to design furniture by gallery patrons.” Fresh out of college, Barr began a journey upon roads less traveled by young artists, “I was really into comics and loved the medium. So, I got into it and did some work for Marvel and DC. But I found that after a couple years I grew to hate it because I wasn’t into the stories they were giving me… I was simply a ‘hired wrist’ and I didn’t like that aspect of the job. It’s one thing to do a story you really like; you want to make it really cool. But if it’s like a bunch of talking heads and you don’t really want to do it, you realize that you are just a hired hand just to do it and not put anything into it.”
Barr appreciates these early experiences though, “I tell people not to go out there thinking you are going to be a painter. Go and get a job in the field and see how it all runs. That’s how I got most of my chops… Russell Keeter once said to me ‘Glenn, you have them all fooled. You took all those fine art classes but you are in advertising.’” Barr took the advice to heart and seriously began to consider exhibiting his work. Barr remembers, “I was just beginning to try out this gallery thing. Initially I had absolutely no ambition to do anything like that, because I never really liked anything I’d seen in the galleries around town. Also, I had thought that none of the galleries around town would want to put my crap on the walls… At the time I didn’t know of anything that was around town. But, I was beginning to watch California though and beginning to notice the newer art magazines, like Juxtapoz. The artists I started to notice were from California and I felt comfortable in wanting to put my spin on it. It was about this time that the car culture was at its height and I was really looking at the iconography of the culture, the flames, the skulls and all that stuff. No one was really capitalizing on that and I thought I could have something to say with my Car Crash themes. I did my share of those paintings and then I decided to move on and I am now, pretty much beginning to edit the car out of my current works altogether and went onto other story telling motifs. My newer works have become more internal. I have tried to catch the mood and tone with color, because that is the most important part to me.”
Every aspect of Barr’s work has been successful. In fact completing commissioned works are occupying more and more of his efforts, “At the moment I would much rather work on a commission because there are a lot of them and I can work at my own pace. In contrast, the gallery stuff you have to kick out X amount of pieces for a body of work to show. Sometimes that can be a little stressful.”
But, while his work is popular from California and New York to Australia and Europe, Glenn still works hard to maintain local roots. Glenn states, “People here have this idea that I’m so successful that they wouldn’t even consider call me to get involved in any local shows. A lot of people don’t even think I live here… I like the Detroit culture, the music culture. There is a certain enthusiastic passion for being creative, especially for music. Of course, Detroit also has a certain texture or grit to it that I like. I know that if I were to have moved out to LA earlier on in my career that my paintings would look completely different because you are influenced by your surroundings. I may even still be working in animation.”
L.A. will never have a Carl’s Chop House, New York will never have a Bill’s Blue Star Disco Lounge and neither city will ever have Glenn Barr as a residing artist. Those cities are nice to visit but Barr sees Metro-Detroit as home for him and his family. For Barr, Detroit has a certain comfortability that you can’t find anywhere else.
Glenn Barr’s new book, Glenn Barr’s Haunted Paradise is a compilation of drawings, sketches and photographs and is available through numerous retail outlets, including CPop Gallery. Check him out on the web at www.glbarr.com.
ChrisTopher Crowder is a local artist whose work is most recently seen in “Saints Preserve Us” at CPop. He was profiled in these pages here, and has also contributed an earlier interview with Chris Dean here. He can be reached at www.myspace.com/tophercrowder.
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