Exclusive Interview: Shawn Barber

In anticipation of Tattooed Portraits-Snapshots

opening Saturday, August 15th

Interview by The Shooting Gallery

Shawn Barber portrait

Shawn Barber paints what he knows. His models are friends and colleagues, creators and innovators. He paints the individuals who exist on the fringe of society within a thriving tattoo subculture. Referencing the physical aspects of those who inspire him, Shawn maps the life stories of these models using their body art as the legend. He exposes the most intimate tattoos of his subjects; those which are normally hidden from view but which are closest to the heart.

This oil painting enigma is also a teacher and a tattooist himself. When not keeping company with San Francisco’s prominent creative minds, Shawn can be seen riding his bike in the city or tattooing at 7th Son. When we sat down with Barber to ask about his first tat, the benefits of Facebook, and how he gets the most out of his models, we found out so much more.

Shawn Barber studio visit

What’s the story behind your first tattoo?

My first tattoo was the black costumed Spiderman on the outside of my left leg. I was 16 and into superheroes.

What were you like as a kid?

I was a shy, timid kid that drew every day to escape the mundane lifestyle of growing up in central New York. Riding BMX and having friends that approached life differently than the small town mentality helped keep my sanity in check.

With sites like Facebook and Myspace, you can see all of the sad assholes that thought they were cool and ruled the world, now living the washed up jock-Bundy lifestyle, obsessed with reality TV and absolutely no purpose in life.

Shawn Barber studio visit

Do you ever paint models that don’t have tattoos?

Not so much anymore.

How do you pose your models, especially for the portraits that show multiple “views” of their body parts?

It really depends on the situation. Sometimes it’s to focus on specific tattoos on the body, other times it’s primarily dealing with aesthetic choices on what I think would be interesting to paint. It’s ever changing.

How does your double exposure-like style convey something unique about the model?

It shows movement and subtlety that might not be apparent in a single image. How a person tilt’s their head, the turn of a wrist, the curl of a lip’s gesture…

S Boltz at Work by Shawn BarberSteve Boltz at Work

Of all the artists and creatives you meet through art shows, tattoo fairs and other travels, how do you choose which individuals to paint?

Sometimes they choose me but mostly I’m painting individuals whose art speaks to me. People that have inspired me, in one way or another, and artists that have made a significant impact in their chosen craft and have influenced many.

Shawn Barber studio visit
Do you approach your models or do others approach you?

Ninety percent of the time, I approach artists that I’m interested in painting.

When you choose artists to paint, are you more inspired by their outward appearance or by their creative influence?

I’m honestly more intrigued by an artist’s own personal history and what they’ve done with their art.

Shawn Barber studio visit
Why is SF the best place for you to live at this point?

I can breathe here.

What other cities have a tattoo culture that you could see yourself thriving in?

Los Angeles and New York are the two cities in America that have a wealth of tattoo history and inspiration.

What do hands tell about a person?

An individual’s hands carry that person’s life history.

Scott Sylvia Hands by Shawn BarberScott Sylvia’s Hands

Do you spend more time teaching, tattooing, or painting?

I spend time doing all three, but painting still consumes the majority of my time.

What came first: a love of tattoos or love of art?

My love of art has been there for over 30 years. My love for tattoos has been with me for over 20.

Shawn Barber Obama Portrait Obama portrait commissioned for Wall Street Journal

Justin wants to know why you insist on painting yourself nude all the time?

I think Justin wants to see MORE paintings of me in the nude; he’s the one that suggested I do them. He’s re-doing his bedroom decor.

double self portrait by shawn barberDouble Self Portrait

Mark your calendars for the opening of Shawn Barber’s Tattooed Portraits-Snapshots on Saturday, August 15th from 7-11pm.

Please contact the gallery for inquiries.

Shawn Barber studio visit


6 responses to “Exclusive Interview: Shawn Barber

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