Artist Toby Barnes on The Y Life

I was recently so impressed by some works of art that I just had to know who the artist was! So I struck up a conversation, ask questions and inquiring on the whereabouts of this artist by the name Toby Barnes.  
Mr. Barnes, who spent some of his formidable years in Florida, now resides in the Northeast and was the creative mastermind behind these intricate paintings. 
You see, his current works represent encounters between the shrinking private and public distinction, hence its impact on our society which has become dominated by techno-savyness. From paintings and installations that explore Hindu and Buddhist practices of creating sacred spaces for personal worship, to the influence of graphically enhanced Millennial culture staples, like cartoons and video games, Barnes’ art is representative of  rituals that carve out the generational objectivity that becomes a perspective, for which to experience the visual representation of an art form. 
Having attended Cooper- this super easy going artist divulged his influence as well as his motivation to the The Y Life in our one on one interview and we just had to share it, with each and every one of you!
Thinking back to your creative development, from childhood, what inspired you to become an artist? You know, what was that moment when you just knew you wanted to make art? 

“Honestly, I think when I won my first art contest, I believe that was in 3rd grade…  I believe when you are going in the right direction, things sort of fall into place and it has been that way for me with art… I kind of go where things take me.”
So basically, you are a person who lives in the moment and you use that same influence in your work? 

“Art has saved me so many times. As long as I was allowed to do and be an artist we are cool, but the moment anyone has tried to change me, or get me to think another way about being, anything other than myself… Art has been a friend, a protector; In life, when you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, everything just sort of falls into place.”
How does your cultural and ethnic identification, inspire your work? 

“Honestly, I think it caused me to have a different perspective. They say that people who are bilingual, which I am, kind of see things in a different perspective. So it is always about seeing or hearing and then re-processing and then being able to see things on multiple levels versus just one way.
Like Asian American, in South Florida is a minority within a minority, but with that said— it just got me to think more understanding. I speak Thai and I also speak Lao and English of course.”
You just mentioned that being exposed to different cultures and languages, caused you to come at things in life from multiple perspectives. Like the more languages you know, the more people you are. That goes with the theory of the art you create, right? As I was reading about your art, it kind of led me to the understanding that you focus on the struggle between the balance of a private and a public sphere in our lives… Hence that constant battle between the two forges of our 21st Century lives, is way more powerful a statement than 25 years ago, when the internet first breached into our lives.
Can you explain to us further about that struggle, which you shine a light on in your art? 

“I am always trying to justify different traditions and basically use them as a tool belt… one of my favorite ways of thinking, when I am putting something together is, like when people get married people say, ‘Something old, something new, something borrowed’, I kind of navigate that way in my art making process. What I saw in my travels, was that people would put together alters or shrines and I was trying to think in my head where have I seen this thing and why was it so inspiring? Basically, I remembered that act is universal and happens in many different cultures and what I also like about it, was that lei people, that didn’t have this artistic background and they were feeling propelled to carve out this sacred space in a public space and feel the need to either immortalize or ordain- and I am attracted to that aesthetic.”
You mention Eastern Philosophy and Buddhist, Hindu worship practices, which you found in spirituality to be so interesting, that caused you to intwine them into art? 

“What I have taken from that, is that a lot of these concepts in the Buddhist and the Hindu art making or worshiping, they always have this underlying way of allowing you to focus, so I felt that that was really interesting and useful in what I wanted to define modern art making and a tradition, which to me is really something from the East. I felt that there was a real, I felt like I was doing my job if I could express it in a new way, because people want to see a new way of seeing things, so I thought I would incorporate or marry the things that I like. I have always been fond of when I have traveled to Asia, ever since I was a kid, visiting temples with religious works, the way I justify it, is as installations for example. In the West you have this definition of what an installation is, and I realized people around the world make installations all of the time when they do an alter or a shrine in a public space.”

IMG Caption: ‘Toby Barnes, Body Electric, 2016.’ Installation view at Locust Project, Miami. Photo Credit: Zack Balber with Ginger Photography Inc.

You also use landscapes and doodles to create these portals into these really interesting and modernistic, but at the same time, old fashioned worlds— these worlds encompass the art you create… the blend between the two worlds is that correct? 

“My painting style is a process in itself, a layering of basically what I have gone through, how I have internalized all of my life experiences and my education and it is executed that way. So for example, my paintings are based on the composition book of religious imagery and in particular they are called, Yantra. 

What a Yantra is, a vehicle for focusing visually on something for meditational purposes, so I took that idea and then I built on it as my composition. Then for the photographs and the collaging and all of that and doodling, that is another layer of things I like to do, in avery calming meditative way, just letting the lines and images flow, then from there feeding these doodles into the computer and the computer is the part in my life when I was out of school and doing graphic design.
I am really happy that I can incorporate all of these things that I go through in life, in my art. Like my paintings you can’t really tell, where one begins and where one ends, and kind of producing like this togetherness in the end.”
Technology plays a really vital role in how Toby creates his art, his belief of technologies’ impact in our lives bleeds into his art in every way possible. His art is a generational depiction of Millennials and Gen X…
You have spoken about Generation X and Y and how this generation built on video games and cartoons, speaks this contemporary language and I think your art truly connects to that. Is there any sort of collective thinking that goes on in relation to Millennials that occurs while you are creating your art? 

“I felt that it was something that they recognized and appreciated, because they already had this built in appreciation, understanding and affinity towards this aesthetic and I thought it was important to be that visual language, and it is a very useful visual language, because I found that it was similar to a visual language you see in religious iconography. It’s a perfect tool for example, to identify characters just by the color of their hair or their skin, so you find these examples particularly in Hindu art, like Krishna is blue, so therefore, an image of Krishna he is the blue one. Then I felt it was very useful and very similar to comic book in general, it allows you to create tension or emphasis or bring your eye or something. Just having that option, I felt was a very powerful tool.”
Tell me a little about your painting, the paintings that drew me to you of the young girls? 

“The show was in Bagalore and in Bagalore is where a lot of Anime is being outsourced. At first I thought I have always wanted a show in India, but I thought it was crazy that they wanted me to show this work, which was like a dream come true…
It made sense, they don’t do that to their own imagery, but they make that style Anime, Disney cartoons, that is what they produce there. So it was really uncanny that I was able to have a show and I was brave enough to do that. Sometimes you can’t see the forest from the trees, but they could see how it was already built in, in their religious iconography.”
They caught my eye and that is what brought me to reach out to you, I had never seen anything like that… 

“To go in deeper, they were basically a series of child deities and India has this tradition, for every God, they will have a child or basically a story— for example Krishna, which they call Pal Krishna, they will have stories of when Krishna was a child, now Jesus has that too, just like Jesus a baby. They expand on it more..”