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I Made You a Mixtape: Interview with Best in Show Winner, Tara Barr

Tara Barr - Best in Show Winner

Artist Tara Barr makes people want to pick up a pencil and attack her art. Not really of course, but Tara Barr‘s Mixtape certainly makes the viewer (or at least, a viewer who grew up before the mid-naughts) want to pick up a pencil and wind her mixtape back up. The Art League caught up with Barr (who you can find in her new studio space on the third floor of the Torpedo Factory) to talk more about her work, her inspirations for her Best in Show winning piece, and her highly recognizable nostalgic style:

How did this series/artwork evolve to where it is now? How did you come up with the concept for this piece?

About a year and a half ago, I was looking for something I could latch onto for a personal style that would translate into a series of work instead of individual pieces here and there. I painted my first typewriter, and I thought, “okay, this might work!” So then, I painted a bunch of them and began to branch off from there. Typewriters, cameras, cars, and motorcycles became my subjects. Most of the paintings are nostalgic, not for me, but for those that view these paintings since I’m too young to have ever used these objects. The mixtape, however, relates more to my own personal generation that people my age latch onto. We love our happy memories and latch onto the struggles of our inadequate technology. Like how things broke, how hard they were to fix, and how much time everything took.

How is your medium an integral part of your work? Why do you work in the medium that you do?

Mixtape is an acrylic piece, and I work in acrylic and oils, mostly because that’s what comes naturally to me. For a long time, I wanted to be a watercolor artist, because I think watercolors are beautiful, but everything I painted was a huge struggle. I used oils for the first time last year and really realized what I was able to do with them, so I stuck with oils and acrylic. I’ve always made art, but never professionally until the last year. I never felt as if I had a personal style or point of view until I started grasping for that.

“Mixtape” by Tara Barr

What technical element is most important in your work?

Definitely color. Everything I paint is a still life with things I don’t normally have a connection to, so my paintings become a vehicle for me to explore different color combinations and compositions. I tend to pick things that are visually simple because it looks good and is efficient. Through that, I can focus on my color choices and practice on my painting skills. It’s definitely pop art and visually simple.

What is your motive and inspiration for your work?

Personally, just to be making art is my motivation. My work is going to look different five years down the road from now, but if you don’t do something, you’re not going to do anything. If I sat around and thought about what to paint, then I wouldn’t actually paint. So for me, these still lives are a thread I’m following that are currently working. It’s fun and easy for me. I’m painting solely to be painting; if I thought about the meaning of my paintings too often, I would paralyze myself into not actually painting. Once I make a lot of work, I see how it all connects to one another—even with paintings I made years ago, I can understand how they fit into my practice now, but at the time I didn’t realize how it was part of something bigger.

How has focusing on these subjects and time period influenced you and your work? 

Most of what I paint contains subjects that are before my time, but I love seeing other people’s reactions to it. It’s about the viewer and what they get out of it rather than what I personally feel towards the subjects in my paintings.

What does ‘Zeitgeist’ mean to you, and how did you see this theme in tune in with your art and practice?

With Mixtape, I posted it on Instagram, and so many of the comments were saying how badly they wanted a pencil to rewind the tape or a crayon. So I think the idea of nostalgia for our past era allows for things that were not so great become the things that you miss.

Why focus on nostalgia/old technology of women’s rights instead of modern-day modes of that intersection?

In order to be worthwhile, art has to evoke some sort of emotion. But, that doesn’t have to be a big, important emotion. Art can be fun, whimsical, and humorous; it’s just as valid as making you think about the meaning of life. Everybody has nostalgia, it’s a fun emotion, and it’s easy to depict. I also have a full-time job as a database administrator, so technology plays into my work that way. It’s what initially inspired me to do the typewriter because I was sitting at my keyboard for eight to ten hours a day looking at that keyboard. The connection between what we use all the time, such as laptops and phones, have roots in typewriters and old technology.

Yeah, technology now is supposed to be this perfect, infallible thing where it’s for a purpose— it’s not for fun anymore with all the quirks and kinks that come with cassette tapes or typewriters. Technology isn’t necessarily flawed anymore; it’s supposed to be this perfect model of a tool that someone uses to complete their task instead of something artistic and fun. 

Everything I paint has big design elements because teams of people have already gone in to make sure that the design of the object looks good. So most of my work is already done for me, haha! I just have to translate that to the canvas. But yes, the actual design elements of old radios, typewriters, and phones were geared towards household fixtures, so people put a lot of thought into how it looks.

Tara Barr with her Best in Show winning “Mixtape”

How does nostalgia fuel your work? Does it ever hinder your practice?

I don’t think it’s hindered my work at all, because I do other things as well, such as personal paintings. I don’t feel as if I have to stay with this particular theme or emotion, though it’s easier for me to be creative in some sort of confines or parameters. I have a starting point now, since finishing my pieces leads me to my next painting.

Can you speak more on balancing your career and motherhood?

I have five-year-old and eight-year-old, and I was a stay-at-home mom with them for four years. Going into that, I thought I would make a lot of art since I wasn’t working, but I found out that wasn’t true at all. I was all mom all the time. Once my younger son got out of his toddler stage, I found that I was really compelled to make art, and I finally had the time. I started painting on the weekends, and have been doing that for the past year and a half. In terms of balancing career and motherhood, there are never enough hours in a day. My kids come to the studio with me sometimes, and I’ll paint while they’re running around playing at home. They’re used to oil paintings all around the house and know not to touch them. My kids also get upset when I sell a painting because they get so attached to each one of them. So yeah, it’s just a part of our environment.

See Tara’s Artwork in the Gallery through October 6. Also, join us tonight for our Opening Reception and 5-Minute Artist Talks. Tara is also having a studio sale currently, you can check in with her work at: tarabarrart.com.

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