Anthony Barrow is both an artist and a teacher, creating and coaching at the same time. Coming to us from Wigan, UK, he’s worked with everything from pastel to charcoal to develop his figurative works. They often focus on women and the delicateness of the human form from behind, in a characteristically rough, blurred style that elevates each scene to a dreamscape. Anthony has won a number of prestigious prizes in the art world including first place at the 2005 Art of Love Exhibition in London. He has also been featured in dozens of exhibitions across the United Kingdom, and when he’s not painting, he’s sharing his gift with others as a freelance lecturer, teaching art groups in the Wigan Borough.
I’ve noticed that most of the figures you tend to paint are women. What is it about them that inspires so many interpretations?
My overall work is figurative, life classes have been an important part of my art education. I suppose I am part of that old school that tends to put women on a pedestal, I love the human form and take great pleasure trying to recreate it in pencil, charcoal, paint in fact any medium. A persons back is very hard to draw - there are no angles and abrupt changes in tone, everything is subtle, just muscle tone. You can even tell from a very abstract view if it is feminine or masculine and I have been trying to capture this form in as many different poses and angles as possible.
Do you work with models or draw the forms organically?
As mentioned above life classes have been a big part of my art education I believe drawing skills are very important - practice and more practice. Sketches are very helpful with proportion and composition but I will also use photographs as a reference for tonal values
Which medium is your favorite to work with on a consistent basis: acrylic, pastel, charcoal, or a combination? What is it about that medium that’s better for your particular style than others?
I don't particularly have any favourite medium. When I first started painting I used pastels then moved on to acrylics, oils and lately watercolour, charcoal and pen and ink. I love to experiment with different mediums, finding out in the process what does or doesn't work. Learning is part of the enjoyment. At university I would practice using acrylic as an under painting with oil over the top. I used the bright colours of the acrylic pigment and the opaque tonal values of the oils to blend and blur edges. This process led me to my most recent technique of using willow and compressed charcoal to complete a painting in tone, then using the acrylic glaze to give colour. This process also allows me the option to partly destroy the work as it is being created.
How long have you been working with these different media?
My whole life has been taken up with one medium or the other but in the last few years the charcoal and acrylic techniques have tended to be the most popular in demonstration and class environments.
What do you love about the rough, blurred style your works tend to employ?
The rough blurred style, or sfumato, comes from the destructive process whereby I can achieve different levels of ambiguity in the work. The primed surface is also very important as this can be seen when the painting is completed. The whole technique of creating this kind of work is for me very enjoyable and seeing where it will take me is the excitement.
Did you always work in this recognizable style or was it something built up to over time? How would you describe it?
My earlier work is more representational but as I time goes on I prefer the looser broader styles of interpretation. Spontaneity is very important for me, keeping the work interesting and fresh texture and technique has become more important. Artists such as Richard Schmid spend more time preparing the painting surface than actually painting. I really aspire to this kind of creativity.
I suppose I would like to think of my work as being impressionistic - a feeling for the subject matter rather than an exact copy.
I’ve noticed that while some of your works are lit up with bright colors, others are left in shades of black and white. What is it about a figure or image that demands color?
Colour represents emotion. The colours in a painting can convey a feeling of being happy or sad etc. Removing the bright colours reduces the images to tonal shapes, representative of old sepia photographs or a distant memory.
How long do you typically spend on a single piece? Do you have a daily routine or particular creative process that results in your work looking the way it does?
Some of my works start life as demonstration pieces in classes or at art groups, colleges etc. They can be completed within a two hour session but if they need extra work I will do this back in the studio. Again spontaneity is the main ingredient. If it takes too long I would get bored and this results in it being overworked. Studio work is more planned and created at a slower pace usually consisting of commission based pieces.
What do you hope to accomplish with your body of work? Would you consider yourself dedicated to a single mantra or expression?
When I sit back and think about it, not wanting to be pigeon-holed has not helped me. My quest to experiment and develop has lead me to attack all mediums and subject matter. Most artists practice in one or two genres, developing and perfecting their specific art. All I can hope for is that the journey I have been making to get to this stage will someday be recognised as part of my own personal body of work.
What is it for you that sparks inspiration for the initial creation of an image?
This is very difficult, sometimes I don't know why I like something. Knowing when to stop in the creative process is very hard to do it comes with experience. My initial inspiration for painting a figure would be the way the light affects the subject or the colour or the ambiguity but all this can be lost when using a particular technique and the work takes on a life of its own. This is the point where I am most excited about the painting and knowing when to stop becomes very important.
I noticed that you showcase your work on a number of different websites. Have you found that online marketing is the best way to get exposure for your work? If not, what’s the best way?
The internet is a wonderful invention. I will use any means to promote my work and the internet galleries and social networking sites save lots of time and trouble trudging around galleries trying to get your work viewed. I have done very well selling work through some of my websites. Of course there is nothing better than seeing an artwork in the flesh, so exhibiting work via galleries is still very important as is entering work into open exhibitions and one man shows.
What don’t you like about the current state of the art world? Is there any particular time period - like at the height of commissioned pieces before the photograph - that you’d rather be working in or do you prefer present day?
There is a lot of snobbery in the art world. This I don't like, and some people will always have that ability to talk up a painting but on the whole most artists, galleries and curators do care. Money also seems to be more important than the work, but that is always going to be the case with some people. I am very happy to be living in this contemporary art world. Naturally there is a lot more competition but that keeps you on your toes. Art materials are very easy to come by and don't cost the earth. It would be nice to have been around in the Renaissance or the Impressionist periods but life was a lot more difficult then. I don't think I personally would be doing what I am doing now.
Who are a couple of your favorite artists right now? Did they play a part in the formulation of your own art?
The Renaissance and Impressionism had a very big part to play in my art education, from composition formulas like the "Golden Section" and colour theories, to the more contemporary artists such as Richard Schmid, Eric Ficshel, Lucian Freud, Joseph Zbukvich the list goes on and on!!! In fact I am always searching for new artists with new techniques and new ways of interpretation.
What’s your favorite thing about being an artist? Is there any advice you have for those just entering the field?
There is no better feeling in the world than being able to earn your living doing something that you enjoy doing, no matter what that may be. For me, it has taken quite a long time to get to this point in my life. It didn't happen overnight and I have not had my fifteen minutes of fame yet but I will never retire. I have this romantic vision of me standing at my easel at a very old age painting my last brushstroke. To anyone starting out in the art world, I suggest you soak up as much information as you can then practice, practice, practice. The hardest thing in life is to find your place in the art world. Only a small percentage of artists earn a living from selling their work alone so don't let it put you off. Be prepared to fund your practice as a teacher, demonstrator, gallery assistant - anything to keep you painting and drawing.