“Have a moment to breath…”
Paul Zimmerman in conversation with Ted Barr
Paul Zimmerman: How did you develop interest in art?
Ted Barr: There were 2 subjects I was intrigued by in my childhood: symbols and celestial elements, I started to research them and then from my early twenties, i started to write about my findings, those writings became the Foundation for the method I developed later on and named FLY – Free the Life within You. Colors and forms appeared on my canvases 20 years later as an extension of my self-expression.
I use the Hubble Telescope images for my Deep Space series and the Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson’s images of embryos for my Human Formation series, I am really inspired by the opportunity to express myself in colors and forms, till the age of 40 my main self-expression tool was writing.
PZ: What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
TB: The most challenging for me is how to keep Ted Barr out of my studio. Whenever Ted Barr is fully present in the studio, my work is interfered. I wrote many articles about this matter. in short, when I create, I prefer to emerge from emptiness. Ted Barr, which happens to be my name, is the subtotal of my ego, memories, self-perception, power games etc.., that inhibit the real essence of me to be revealed and shared. This is one of the reasons you won’t find my name on my canvases, I developed a symbol that represents the FLY essence instead.
PZ: What is your artistic process? How do you create your paintings?
TB: I wake up everyday before sunrise, there are times I see, I envision the shape, the colors, the dimensions of the object I would like to paint, I put my working outfit on, run to the studio, pick a canvas and start to create.
There are mornings where I see nothing, I arrive to my studio with no idea what am I going to do, I sit on my ‘Dwelling Chair’, meditate, contemplate, ruminate, wait for something to pop up, there are times where nothing happens, the canvas remains white and I return home, I don t force myself to create art, but there are times that a spark ignites a chain of creative reaction and the canvas absorbs all the forms and figures that lands on him. Creating out of this state of mind brings better paintings.
But there is a third state of mind in which I arrive to my studio and I feel completely lost, full of doubts, is it worth it? All those efforts? All this trouble? All those travels all around the globe, searching for what? Most of the times out of this state of mind the canvas remains white but if something happens and I am drawn to the canvas and create I consider them to be my best works.
PZ: Do you have any particular goal in mind when your start a new piece?
TB: There are no particular goals in my work and I don’t do assignments, I would say that it is more a call than a goal, there is something calling me, attracting me to the canvas with a certain color palette then figures and shapes are shared with me, if to add a ‘goal’ I would say that my goal would be not to interfere with this process, the more responsive I am the more flowing is the working process, and the more happy I become with the result
PZ: How do you know when the painting is finished?
TB: My father was an Orthopedic surgeon, I was very close to him and used to assist him in his clinic, there were always a lot of patients in the waiting room, he used to be very polite with every patient but there was a moment in which he said: ‘thank you for choosing me as your doctor, I am here for any future inquiries’, this sentence always marked the end of the treatment session. My father used to say in the end of the day: ‘I wish I had more time with each patient’. I feel the same about my canvases.
PZ: Have your practice changed over time?
TB: I started my art lectures in Old Jaffa, a 9000 years old city in the south of Tel Aviv, my master was Slomo Tzafrir that for 2 years taught me how to draw, so for 2 years I used only pencils and charcoals, then he introduced me to acrylic colors and only in our 5th year to oil colors, he died in our 7th year together with his unfulfilled promise to add gesso.
When Tzafrir died in 2002, I started my experiment period with mixtures of acrylics and oil colors, I tried to capture what seemed to be the ultimate chaos and enormous volatility in deep space, but it wasn’t enough, then I used cold tar and found out that the combination of acrylics and cold tar forms unexpected inspiring shapes and movements on my canvases, adding to that oil colors completed the first phase of the FLY technique, then I started to use gesso, as the medium for shaping my stars and galaxies, sometimes I add beeswax colors and sometime I use a brush if I would like to implement a figurative shape in the work.
My current method is based on 3 key elements:
Flow – of colors on the canvas
Merge – of contradicting ingredients as oil, acrylic and tar
Layers – for transparency and depth
PZ: Which artists are you most influenced by?
TB: I’ll mention 3 artists:
My ultimate piece of art is a small painting exhibited in the MoMa, it’s called Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth, I was so moved by this artwork that I went to Knox county in Maine to visit Cushing, the place this painting was created in. This is the first painting I visit when I arrive to the MoMa and the last one I see before leaving the museum. I often asked myself what is it that draws me again and again to that artwork. I think the first powerful connection is the emotion it evokes, a paralyzed too skinny woman in a vast empty field. It is so sad, every time I look at Christina I am on the verge of crying. Wyeth had exposed his art to large audiences he made original local art describing places and people in Maine and Pennsylvania, and definitely his works are timeless.
The second is an Israeli painter Ori Reisman, depicting nature as wide-open stripes of light colors with no details just the overall feeling of movement, I can see his brush movements in any painting
The last is Eli Shamir that lives in a Kibbutz in Northern Israel he paints nature figuratively capturing the essence of the grass and trees, I prefer the naked nature that he paints rather his works with human being
Thinking about it there is a common thread between those 3 masters, I would name it simplicity, they don t try to add what is not needed, it is a kind of minimalism I can relate to and I feel inspired every time I stand in front of their works.
PZ: How would you define art?
TB: A fine artist isolates himself for a year in a desert, he takes a big canvas on a wooden frame and painting materials, food and water. He sits there secluded from civilization, painting from sunrise to sunset the most marvellous masterpiece. In the end of that year he digs a big hole in the ground and buries the canvas with its wooden frame, then covers it with the desert soil and walks away.
Is it art?
100 years later a group of archaeologists dig around the oasis the artist worked in; they reveal a rotten wooden frame with remains of torn fabric.
Is it art?
We can agree that a canvas with colours and shapes on is art, even if it is on a pedestal, but let’s assume the painter just accidently spilled a red bubble in the middle of a canvas, he went away, a thieve grabbed the canvas from the pedestal and hide it with many other canvases and art objects he stole, when all those treasures were found they were auctioned. The red bubble gained 18800$ with the title: Untitled by Unknown, definitely art, isn’t it?
I’ll try to refer to the question by its letters:
A – Audience, art needs audience, art is a matter of sharing, expressing, evoking feelings and thoughts. Art kept in the drawer is self-expression, it becomes art when revealed and discussed
R – Repetition and Recognition, by repetition I mean an ongoing process of making, a sum-up of trial and errors of efforts to spill out the artists wraith on the canvas or whatever chosen material and by recognition I don’t mean a gallery or museum recognition but another human being that would communicate with the artist about its creation.
T – Time, the more relevance through time the more artful it is. The Ancient Greek’s statues are timeless, they conjure the magic of human life that would be relevant forever. There is relevance in time and site-specific venues that raise questions about human life, but still the more universal and more relevant it is the more artful it would be considered to be.
So, in order for an artwork to be considered as such we need a repetitive effort recognized by other human beings over time. This definition might sound strange in the area of social media in which everything is instant and passing by, but if we pose and think what art should be it has to do with dialogue and sharing otherwise it would be like the rotten wood and torn fabric.
PZ: What are you working on now?
TB: I am working on 3 new works in the COL – Cycles Of Life series, this series was exhibited in a solo show in Perugia, Miami and NYC and now I prepare new works for a show in Tokyo in May 2021.
Another project is FLY Carpets, 7 hand made carpets, the biggest is 16’x9′, those carpets are made by Bhadohi Carpets firm from Uttar Pradesh, India, my artworks are woven by hand with wool and silk and I am very fascinated by the results.I work nowadays on a FLY workshop for designers and architects that would open the minds for an out of the box thinking and above all my greatest project is completing the second FLY book.
PZ: How does the pandemic influence your work and sensibility?
TB: I see the pandemic as a messenger, there are a lot of people and events that pass by in my life, I am always trying to understand what is their meaning? what are they trying to transmit?
The meaning of this pandemic for me is halt. Have a moment to breath, and ponder on what is really important in my life.
This is the first year that I am not flying, last year I was 3 times in India, I came back in mid-February and since then I am here at my home, I said to my representatives worldwide that 2020 economically is lost but it is the best time to plan for the future, I estimate that we will be back to ‘normal life’ (till the next pandemic) in the 3rd quarter of 2021.
So, I find myself more at home completing my book which I named ‘The FLY Approach to Life’
I keep doing my art and found myself in bizarre situations like trying to avoid the cups on the way to my studio during the lockdown.
I will share with you a thought I had as a final message from this interview, it might be that the real pandemic is what used to be our ‘normal life’, with the endless rush in the vicious cycle of modern life and now when we are more grounded, close to nature and to our families is the real ‘normal life’