Visiting Artist Lecture- Michael Barnes

Michael Barnes came to visit CU and did a lecture for a few studio art classes, one of which I was fortunate enough to be in. His works consist of his drawings which he then transforms into prints and they have a sense of gloom and imagination about them. I found his works to be disturbing yet fascinating and he was very interesting to listen to as he is very passionate about what he does. 

Michael Barnes is a talented and imaginative artist who draws mystical and out there characters that have an aspect of gloom to them. He then incorporates these drawings into prints that have a very stylistic look to them. I really enjoyed his lecture because I found him to be an interesting character and I liked what he had to say. He stated that as a kid in school he was always drawing because it made it easier for him to pay attention, which I connected with because I often am the same way and doodle throughout my class lectures. What I found the most intriguing were his figures, which all have a sense of darkness and mystery to them. He draws odd characters created straight out of his imagination, which is the most curious part about his art to me because I can’t help but want to know what goes on inside his mind. He seemed to be very personable and eager to express his feelings about his work, but if I were to judge him by his work before meeting him I would have guessed he was a sad person.

The elements in Michael’s work that evoke my response are the isolation of most of his figures. It is as they are all a bunch of misfits located in their own lost worlds, and they all seem to have some sort of deformity and are set in mute toned environments. This is why I feel a sense of sadness when I view his work but at the same time a great sense of interest and appreciation, because his pieces make me want to see into the souls of his characters and find out why they are so depressed. Not one of his drawings have faces with smiles, which is quite obvious in his series “Heads of State” which features different human-like figures that have growths on their heads or look diseased with boils and lumps on their faces, all sporting a solemn frown. All the pieces in this series either have no background, or just a fence post or a few random trees to give the work a sense of depth. The lack of background really adds to the isolated feeling of these works.

One aspect about Michael’s work that I enjoyed were how although many of his pieces are just random drawings, many have subtle meanings behind them that seem to mock society or make the viewer contemplate things. An example of this is in his piece “To Each Their Own,” which features two stags feeding on the land behind a character sitting in a chair holding a rifle with a confused look on his face. He appears to be half human and half creature, but it is not until you really focus on him that you realize he has the same ear and horn that the stags have. As a viewer I found the piece to be really emotional, for the character is debating whether to shoot and kill another creature that he shares partial physical relations too. For me it comments on society and how although as a people we may all be individuals and some of us different races and ethnicities, we are still all human yet sometimes we don’t act as if we are all equal or worthy, and we make the same choices as this character everyday of whether to befriend or deny another creature. In this case, this figure has to let the stags live or kill them although they are a part of his kind. I really like how Barnes secretly sneaks such controversies into his pieces; it gives them a whole other element to contemplate.

Barnes creates his works first by illustrating the characters, and then he incorporates them with ink and prints overtop of them. He sometimes uses photographs as backgrounds and those are incorporated within. I think his process is really cool and unique because he puts so much time, care and thought into each piece. He has multiple steps and does all his illustrations by hand, keeping sketchbooks to help to develop his ideas. Every character he creates really fits into their background, and if there is not a background it is meant to be so. The pieces have a rustic and old style look to them because of the tones of light green, gray and yellow, but others have carefully chosen parts individually filled with color to enhance parts of importance. I love how dedicated he is to his work and that it really is what his life revolves around; after his studies of art and lithography in college he now teaches as a printmaking professor at Northern Illinois University, where he can inspire and teach students while continuing to flourish his passion. Each element of his work takes time and every piece demonstrates the hard work and craftsmanship he put into it to make the final creation work as a whole.

Barnes’s work only sometimes seemed to be intentional such as the “To Each Their Own,” piece. However I feel as if they are usually meant to evoke different emotions within the viewer and leave it up for them to interpret, and that he often makes the piece up as he goes along and bases the background and framework around the character he drew. He realizes that the characters can sometimes be disturbing to viewers, but each one seemed to be very special to him. He was highly effective of expressing his passion in his work and how much he enjoys it in his lecture. His work is a success because of its uniqueness and unusual characters that convey different thoughts and dark emotions. I hope he comes back to CU because I would enjoy looking at his work in person again; it has so much more power in life rather than on a screen.


This piece directly above is titled “The Serenade,” and the cool thing about it is that those squiggles on the bottom of the piece are actually live earth worms that he scanned on a computer and added to his piece. Awesome.

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