Liam Barr, Eclectix Interview 58

liam barr interview - eclectix



Liam Barr, An Eclectix Artist Interview

New Zealand artist Liam Barr creates fantastical portrait narratives which spark questions and hook us with surreal, old world mystery. ( Witness the masterpiece above, his killer portrait of the writer Katherine Mansfield! )  Liam’s finely honed skills communicate with delicacy, insight and compassion on the human condition. They can feel barren, desolate almost gothic – yet at the same time full of thoughtful humble soul. A breath of sarcasm and irony delve into his more serious concerns – of spirituality, mortality and one’s role in life. We thought it best to let Liam do the rest of the talking here, as his articulate thought and honesty are their own rewards.  



Liam Barr Eclectix Artist Interview


How would you describe your own art? What one element is most important to you in each piece?

My work follows my life’s path or maybe it’s the other way around. I paint purely whatever I see in my head or as my interests dictate. There is no major strategic dictum I follow to be one thing or another.  I allow myself the freedom to change, therefore so should my work, how people perceive that is up to them, I have no control there. My mandate is to better myself with each work and to keep it as honest as possible. In this way, it will never become a tiresome job regurgitating the same thing over and over. If there is one thing I try to impart in each of my works is a glimpse into the soul of the subject, an emotional snapshot where the viewer has an opportunity to connect. If I can achieve that, my job is done. 





Many of your works have referenced Aboriginal tales, gods and folk-lore…  can you expound on this a little?

I have always been interested in culture, folk and lore and have travelled all over the globe witnessing how others interact with their place of being. These travels provided me with an empathy for others and an understanding that people are people wherever they are, everyone has a story and everyone’s story is worth a listen.





Has being a transplant in the Maori’s lands had an influence? If so, how? 

The NZ Maori have a very strong connection to their land (turangawaewae – place to stand) and their ancestors (whakapapa). Being a pakeha (white NZ’er) in a bicultural society comes with its own set of questions around identity and where I stand within this cultural landscape and I have dedicated most of my career to this very question. As a visual artist I have chosen to have my images speak for me and so urge you to look at my bodies of work ‘Hei Tiki – Hi Mate’, ‘Grandland’ & ‘Pakeha’. I think those images say it better than words could ever.





I love the prose underneath your images…  are the works directly inspired by the writings, does it come after, or both? Do you include it on the back of your works? 

Yes that is true, I enjoy writing the prose and limericks to the paintings, it offers some insight to the narrative behind the image especially when the subject is an actual person but also for the viewer who may be unaware of the context or cultural significance of the allegory. I usually write these after the painting is complete, sometimes months after. I don’t normally attach them to the paintings, however they often find their way on to the title bar of the limited edition prints I produce.





My favorite art memory from my childhood is … 

Pouring through this huge book we had of monsters, myths and legends. It had fabulous artwork, some of it ancient, gargoyles and such and I would copy from that. I think that’s where my interest in folklore springs.


When I was a little kid, I wanted to be… 

An artist, I think I always wanted to be one. Even as a young boy being blown away by the optical illusionary work of M.C Escher. The level of thought, design and meticulous craft had me hooked and I wanted more.






My interest in art started when… 

I was about 6, my older brother was ripping into the oil paints and was pretty good for a young fella, he inspired me to get involved. I started drawing animals mainly and copying from the book ‘The Living World of Animals’. I still have that book and even reference from it from time to time.



Besides working on my art, I also… 

Like to test my carpentry skills (loosely termed) so I’m renovating our old villa. It’s a nice contrast to the sedentary hours staring at the canvas. If I’m not doing that I’m running, swimming or tramping through the bush. Now my teeth are longer, keeping physically fit helps my focus and straightens my back.





If I could spend the day with any artist it would be …
Definitely Dali, maybe in the 1960’s when he was good, baked and loaded with cash. We would be at the Teatro-Museo Dalí in Figueres, Spain.
And we would…
Drink bubbles, eat crayfish and we would talk of abstract notions and fanciful ideas, relishing purely in the madness of it all.


The art technique that has helped me the most is …. 

The 20 minute snooze. Strange to admit but when I am visualizing a new work I find a sleepiness often overcomes me. I used to fight it but now I welcome it and use it to my advantage and more often than not, leads to a painting. My other pearl of wisdom is the ‘squint’ can’t underestimate the value in cutting down the details into gross shapes, especially good for toning.




If I could own one piece of art, out of the world’s collections, it would be … 

The Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan Van Eyck would look great in my lounge.


My current favorite piece of my own art is …
‘Sola’ (below).

It was inspired by …
My own sea voyage and the sense of loved ones lost. In this narrative, the girl hunts for her man in another land, she is protected by the albatross, who also mate for life.





The most memorable thing anyone has ever said to me about my art is … 

That when she saw the work she burst into tears, for it spoke to her with such power she felt connected to her ancestors.


My ultimate project or fantasy is … 

To live long enough to paint 150 works, half way there.



Liam Barr Interview - Eclectix


I am currently working on …. 

A new series of works for a solo show next year at Artis Gallery, Auckland NZ. Rather than paint independent pieces in their own right and narrative, I’m going to paint them as a body of work intrinsically linked with a common thread. Launching into this will involve some departure from what I am used to, but I feel excited and a little scared of the outcome.  I think it’s important to explore the unknown in order to test my boundaries and develop new skills. Watch this space.





A specific event in my life that sparked a number of my works was … 

Coming back to New Zealand in 2004 after living in Australia for 14 years.

It gave me an opportunity to reconnect with this spiritual and dynamic land and its people. My wife worked with a Maori youth theatre company which toured around the country. This gave me an opportunity to connect with ‘Tangata Whenua’ (People of the land) which culminated in the next two exhibitions, ‘Hei -Tiki – Hi Mate’ 2007 & Grand-Land 2009. These works depicted Maori figures styled into tiki figures set among moody NZ landscapes. There was quite a bit of humor, social commentary and for me, a grounding catharsis.





If I could time travel – the era or historical date I would like to drop in on is … 

The grand exhibitions of London and Paris in the 1850’s to 1900 would be pretty cool. There was a fabulous explosion of art, technology, discovery and an excitement of a new world of dawning. Mix this with the fashion and grandeur of the social classes and you have a spectacle of monumental proportions.





The last song I choose to listen to was … 

Dub Pistols – Speed of Light


The last book I couldn’t put down was … 

Eleanor Catton’s ‘The Luminaries’ and winner of that Man Booker Prize and a story of murder in this land but very descriptive of the gold rush days in NZ’s west coast and so well written.





My favorite character in a work of fiction is … 

The slow methodical cop/detective type. For example Easy Rawlins from the Walter Mosley series, the old cop in ‘No Country for old Men’, or Smiley in a John Le Carre novel.
Because…  These are no frills fellas that nut out the crime one piece at a time, men who are less about running and more about thinking, I’d like a little more of that for myself.


One of my favorite words is … 

Lackadaisical, another current favorite is ruminate, I’ve mastered both.


One of my favorite smells is … 

The ocean.





One of my favorite movies is … 

Cloud Atlas. I loved the book and thought the effort on the movie was brilliant and a great artistic challenge for each of the actors involved.


I can’t live without … 

Coffee, cliché I know but true.


It’s not hip, but I really love … 

My veggie garden. It doesn’t get better than nipping out the back to slice off what you need for the evening meal.


My favorite part in my home is … 

There’s a nice little corner of the lounge where the curiosity shelf hangs. It’s a double glass shelf from the 50’s and supports my favorite trinkets collected from travels. There’s a kazoo, Jews harp, and old pressed Popeye tin, a 50’s microphone, chromatic harmonica, two little porcelain sailors, a london phone box pencil sharpener. a 50’s camera flash fan, a vintage toy car and a diorama of mariachi singers serenading Frida Kahlo. They’re little things that remind me of others creativity and ingenuity and friends like to pick them up and fiddle with them, I like that too.





If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be… 

Right here in New Zealand. It really is one of the best countries on the planet. It is outstandingly beautiful with a great climate, it’s uncrowded, easy-going and safe. I’d have to say a great place to bring up a family. On the flipside, being an artist with such a small population is tough so i’ll call it a ‘lifestyle choice’.


My favorite motto (or quote)  is … 

“If you work for a living, why do you kill yourself working?”
 The Good, the Bad & the Ugly, 1966.



Link to - Liam Barr’s Website





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