West Coast correspondent Sandra Orellana Sears talks to Cuban-born, LA-based Juana Olga Barrios about art, language and blogging for a cause. ///
WHEN DID YOU FIRST BECOME INTERESTED IN ART?
My mother told me I would go around the house, sit down in front of objects and attempt to draw them pretty regularly as a young child. When I was a bit older she gave me painting lessons with a private teacher.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST CONSIDER YOURSELF AN ARTIST?
Later, I entered a pencil drawing of the Easter bunny in a local newspaper contest. They made me sit down in front of an adult and draw the bunny again because they didn’t believe I had managed it on my own. Only then did they grant me first prize. But I would say that when I sold my first oil painting at age 12, I began to consider myself an artist.
ARE YOU PRIMARILY A SELF-TAUGHT ARTIST OR DO YOU HAVE FORMAL TRAINING?
I am primarily self-taught, but I have taken classes here and there with private teachers along the years.
HOWEVER, YOU RECENTLY TOOK A COLLEGE COURSE AT SANTA MONICA COLLEGE. WHAT LED YOU TO ENROLL IN A COLLEGE-LEVEL COURSE? WERE YOU INSPIRED?
I wanted to commit to a block of time and space where I could show up, get some good feedback, learn more about materials and be inspired by others in the studio. The teacher was wonderful, very well-versed in materials and techniques. I learned a lot from her in a few weeks. Our studio was at the Santa Monica Airport in a hangar-like space with soaring ceilings and lots of light.
YOUR EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND IS IN COUNSELING (MASTERS) AND PSYCHOLOGY (PHD). HAVE THESE FIELDS OF STUDY AFFECTED YOUR TRAJECTORY AS AN ARTIST?
My study of Depth Psychology, rooted in Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell’s work, deals with understanding symbols, mythology, archetypes, and the power of these stories and symbols to convey great meaning and provide a deeper understanding of the human condition.
WORDS AND TEXT ARE OFTEN INTEGRATED IN YOUR WORK. CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE INFLUENCE YOUR PIECES?
I LOVE language and the way it can perfectly describe a state of being and then completely fail to capture meaning altogether. Literature overflows with symbols, metaphors, and archetypal journeys. Often by simply painting the name of a poet or a character that I adore, a painting can resonate with a tremendous amount of personal meaning that often also has universal meaning. I sold a painting with the words BuenosAiresRiodeJaneiroHavanaMexicoCityCuzco to a young woman who had never been to any of those places. She told me that when she looked at the painting she could feel some sort of magic, as if the words had the energy to get her on the road to somewhere other than where she was. It “unstuck” her.
MANY OF YOUR PIECES ARE NAMED AFTER CITIES IN THE WORLD. HOW DO YOU CHOOSE EACH DESTINATION AND WHAT IS THE REASONING BEHIND THESE CHOICES?
One of my core values is ADVENTURE and the way I most like to experience adventure is by traveling high and low through the rich cultures on this planet. Again, painting the names of cities and countries is a way of evoking the Eros of these places, to provoke and stir the sense of getting on the road, getting lost, and allowing myself to be free of my daily, routine perspectives. Luckily, I get to live my core values frequently so these paintings are like personal travelogues. I need to get to my easel and catch up. I’ve been traveling a lot since those last ones sold…
SPANISH OFTEN APPEARS IN YOUR WORK, AND YOUR FAMILY IS ORIGINALLY FROM CUBA. HOW HAS YOUR PERSONAL HISTORY AFFECTED YOUR ART?
Being Cuban, being Moroccan, being American, being female, being educated, being in love… There is absolutely nothing about my life that doesn’t appear in one form or another in my work.
IS ANYONE ELSE IN YOUR FAMILY AN ARTIST?
My cousin Flor Fernández Barrios is a painter, a psychotherapist, and a published author. She emigrated from Cuba when she was thirteen years old, and of all of my cousins — I have 52 first cousins — I have always felt closest to her.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR NEW BLOG. WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND LEFT turn RIGHT?
My entire life people have asked me how it is that I LIVE my life. How do I do all the things I do, many of them seemingly disconnected. How do I have the courage to take so many risks, try so many things. It always baffled me. I wasn’t sure what they were even talking about. It seemed perfectly normal to me. But then as I started working one on one with people, and really listening deeply to all the fears and beliefs that created so many obstacles to living a fully expressed, creative, inspired and embodied life, I started to incorporate some of the creative elements that have always worked for me. LEFT turn RIGHT was born from a desire to expand my reach in teaching and inspiring others to take risks, to have fun and to get really curious about the choices they were living out.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE IMPLEMENTATION OF ART AS A LEARNING TOOL IN EDUCATION TODAY?
It is essential beyond measure. Like water. If we didn’t have it, we’d shrivel and eventually die.
WHAT WOULD YOU CONSIDER TO BE THE IDEAL ENVIRONMENT FOR YOUR PAINTING PRACTICE?
Inner peace, unfettered time, inspiring space, and courage.
WHO ARE YOUR GREATEST CREATIVE INFLUENCES?
I love the classical period of Ancient Greece, which is characterized by joyous freedom of movement, freedom of expression. Whenever I am in museums with the extraordinary bronze and stone sculptures of the divinities of Greek and Roman mythology, I feel so happy, as if their greatness, their wisdom, their freedom, and their independence was being directly transmitted to me. Many of them represent my core values. It is truly inspiring just to hang out with them for a little while and see what gets downloaded. Artemis, Athena, Zeus, Aphrodite, Persephone… It’s absurd for me to try and name them. I love them all.
WHO DO YOU BELIEVE TO BE THE MOST PROMISING YOUNG ARTISTS OF YOUR GENERATION?
I’m not sure what you mean by promising because I wouldn’t know anything about what the market would think, but I love the work of Elizabeth Peyton.
IF YOU COULD INTERVIEW ONE ARTIST IN THEIR STUDIO TODAY, WHO WOULD IT BE?
/// Juana Olga Barrios maintains Studio de la O (here), to showcase paintings and collages, and another blog, She Pushes a Mad Whip (here), for writings. Barrios is currently at work on the forthcoming LEFT turn RIGHT.