in partnership
(Image courtesy of Barry Johnson).

Artist of the Week: barry johnson

Seattle might be notorious for niche coffee shops and scenic waterways, but locals know it's also home to an array of people who love to create. This city is chock-full of artists who we love to feature weekly on Seattle Refined! If you have a local artist in mind that you would like to see featured, let us know at And if you're wondering just what constitutes art, that's the beauty of it; it's up to you!

Seattle Refined: How long have you been creating? Do you work with other mediums?
Barry Johnson: I've been making art for the past five years. As a multi-disciplinary creative, my work spans across all mediums. This to me is the most exciting part of creating new work. During any week, I could be painting in the morning, drawing on the bus, collaborating on a performance piece in the afternoon and writing a film later that night. I work across all mediums because it challenges me to come up with different forms of work to address things happening across the nation and in my personal life. At times, it's hard to comment about the social-political commentary happening around the US now in a painting, so I use performance art and film to express what I feel. I also love collaborating with different artists across different mediums.

Seattle Refined: Can you tell us about your artistic process and how the different stages work into it?
My process changes often and is usually driven purely by a vibe. I typically come up with 5-7 months’ worth of work whenever I'm away from everyone. We'll take trips and we always schedule in a couple days where I stare, walk and write for hours. During that time, I'm letting my head go to wildest places imaginable. I'm not thinking with restraints or limits during these times. I always come back with new work different than all my other work. Once I'm home, I'm usually up working very early or very late. During those times, I eat and sleep very little. Long periods will go by where I’ve slept only 3-4 hours a day. I’m vegan, so it’s easy to grab a quick bite and get back to it. At those times, I make my greatest works and I’m usually working very fast, producing 2-4 works a week.

I'm also sending strangers blind request to work with them during these times because I've usually thought up some projects that I know would be a good fit for them. There's a large group of people that have received emails or text from me to do wild things like scream at the top of their lungs on film for two minutes, play violin in a park while a group of people stand still behind them, play cello in a shipping container, lie naked on the ground and many more things. Jumping into the thick of everything to soak up all that's happening, then removing myself to create keeps my work fresh and always evolving.

Tell us about where your inspiration for your art come from?
Everything and I mean that. Conversations, things I see, listen to, read about, everything will find some way into my work. My main rule is to never make it too obvious in the final work. After a project comes together and I start talking about how much of everything around me went into it, people are usually surprised at how many things end up becoming a part of the final work. I never want something to be so direct that it doesn't make you stop to think for a moment. That’s the reason why I won’t do a front facing painting of a person or have every one person that is a part of a performance doing something. I love the exploration process of taking in new content.

Do you have a specific “beat” you like best – nature, food, profiles etc?
People are by far my favorite texture/instrument or medium to work with. There's so, soooooooooo much that you can do with them, from placing them in installations in various positions, dressing or undressing them, the beauty of the skin and the billion different ways that you can paint it. You can stretch, bend and manipulate the human form in different ways. You can use the voice or restrict it all together to communicate and so much more. I love to mute people. Often during a performance, I'll just have people stand and not move. There's so much gets said by standing, sitting or lying doing nothing in an open environment while people watch. On canvas, I often remove faces altogether and paint people from their side profiles or facing back. Once you take away eyes, you remove the most common connection point that people have, forcing the viewer to look deeper.

Do you have one piece of art that means more to you, or is extremely special to you?
Nope, once I finish a piece, I remove all emotion attached to it. Once my body tells me that it's done, that it. I rarely think of it. I have to do this in order to keep creating more work and not going back to a piece make changes to it or refusing to let it go if someone wants to own it.

What experiences in your life have affected your art the most?
Keeping a level head, along with a constant exercise and diet routine and a great source of different people to talk to keeps me in a good place. Since I'm making work reflective of the time it's easy to get caught up in everything happening and that can shift my work in a bad way. I remember years back getting so caught up in the racial tension happening after Trayvon Martin was killed that I painted my studio black. I was stuck making only black and white works for 6 months. It took a lot to climb out of that place and get back to color.

If we want to see more of your work where should we go to find?
I have a performance coming up at BASE with Randy Ford and Gabriel-Bello Diaz on May 21-22.

I'm currently showing pieces at Onyx gallery and will also have pieces in the Kent Summer Arts Exhibition on June 6. You can also see work on my website and Instagram.

What is next for you? Anything you’re working on right now that you’re really excited about?
Yep, I'm working on opening a new show featuring a few temporary murals. It’s going to be way dope. I just finished writing this film that we’ll begin shooting this summer. I’m leading a TEDxAdventure next month and am hoping to grace the TEDxSeattle stage this year. I’ve also applied for a few public art opportunities that I’m are TBD.

Lastly, how do you take your coffee? We ask everyone.