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Responsibility of an Artist in Society and Politics

It is sometimes difficult to pinpoint the exact role of the arts in societal and political critique. Especially since postmodernism has overshadowed everything with a twinge of mocking nihilism. Hyperbole has taken over in the past few years and it becomes difficult to articulate any criticisms on society with subtlety and moderation. But screaming or quiet whisperings, the role remains I believe. It isn’t a martyrdom or an esteem…it simply is.

A heavier social critique from 2015. But I couldn’t stop thinking about this boy, so like my son, today as I read my country’s new stance on refugees.

As communicators and citizens, artists by necessity become a reflection of their times and their surroundings. Our work can’t be adequately critiqued without the context of our personal and societal history and current experiences; and our society and history cannot be adequately understood without an attempt to view the artwork that arises from it.
There should certainly be a degree of integrity attached to our works, though we often infuse the genuine even when we seek to remain light-hearted and a distraction from the drudgery.
As a visual artist, the line is more stark or more subtle, depending on mode of communication and subject, style and medium. But the arts include dance and music, film and literature; cultural expression. The arts are essential to a full life and a full understanding of identity and humanity.

Fuck Yer Fences We Got Tunnels. We will find a way to trudge on.

It is with great hope and great humility that I can continue to provide some sort of context of my experience and my understanding as the political climate changes so drastically in America. And it is also with a heavy heart, because so many politicians and so many citizens place such an insubstantial value on the arts in their lives and lives and growth of others.
But throughout history, art has never disappeared. Especially during times when others tried to stifle expression. The human mind fights to remain what it always has been. It fights to remain.

Support the art that connects to you when you see it. Support the struggling painter and the inner city youth dance company. Support your local independent film festivals and support your friends who play gigs. Support National artists and art programs and non-profits. Donate art supplies or instruments or times to local schools and local students who lack adequate access. Create an account on Patreon and find an artist or creator (or 12) who speaks *to you* and help fund their work.

Be Excellent To Each Other.

Agony Unveiled

“Agony” is a piece that I started in January of 2007. It hadn’t yet been a year since I was diagnosed with PTSD, but I had begun to make significant progress as I used my artwork to work through past traumatic events. This also led to a solo showing at Flight Gallery in December of 2006. The show came down on the 9th and 10th of January. On the night of January 10th I was assaulted and in the next few days I did the only thing that I had learned to do to cope with all of the swirling in my head and the physical dysphoria, I started a new painting.

[Here is the piece in 2007, after months of mildly tinted acrylic medium.]

One of the constant thoughts in the early period was “How long will it take to move past this one?”. I was utterly lost really. I began to put a thin translucent layer over the word agony every day. I planned on continuing this until I had found a way to move on; or perhaps until I couldn’t read the word any longer in the hope that this metaphor would make me strong enough to move on.

It is now January 2nd, 2017; almost 10 years later and the piece is complete. Or, as complete as it ever will be. It is as complete as I am. I have learned, in these years, that these things can’t be erased. We all find our own ways to cope with our unique experiences and we create stories and metaphors in our heads to make sense of our reality, but sometimes we remember that they are only stories and we catch glimpses of the ugly truth in our peripheries. We could attempt to build a wall between ourselves and our tragedies. We can try to make these things invisible to others, even to ourselves, because we don’t want to see it every day. But, despite this resistance, we can’t forget. And we can’t ignore it.

I am so deeply satisfied that I was able to complete this painting. I had felt as though that word was staring at me at times and felt ashamed each time I saw it. I love that the process has been completed at a time when I have been especially focused on temporal distances and the effects of time on the tangible and intangible. Its completion also comes at a time when I have been clearly reminded that sometimes these metaphors are obviously only metaphors and the tragedies in life are always there, subtly shifting our perceptions and actions.

I am honored at the response I have received from the few people whom have seen the piece “early”. The connection they expressed to the piece is truly overwhelming and has reminded me of how important it is to honestly use our voices and our truths to create connections, and beauty, and integrity in a world that is often tainted by tragedy, isolation and injustice.

It is my honest hope that this piece may remind a few souls that, while they may always carry something tragic with them, it need not haunt them or define their beauty or impact on their worlds. Even when we can see that it is only a story, it is always our story. And ours alone.

Here is the now completed piece, thank you for sharing in a piece of my story.

For more writings on mental health issues from Sara Barcus (including background on both diagnosis and the journey of creating Memories, Remedies and Nightmares in 2006 and recent progress and challenges) at Bird By Bird.

In the 10 Years Since

The ten year anniversary of Memories, Remedies, and Nightmares is here. We are approaching the anniversary of the show’s denouement.  This was my first solo show at a professional gallery in December of 2006 at FLight Gallery. It was an exciting milestone in my career as a gallery artist in San Antonio and I felt welcomed into the community even more than I had been previously.

The show was also a catharsis for me, as it dealt with past sexual assault and the emergence and diagnosis of my PTSD, depression, anxiety disorders, and agoraphobia. It was almost a year in the making and had really helped me to use my artwork as a communication tool for things that I couldn’t articulate with words. There are some things that are indescribable; and others that are simply unspeakable.  But, by the time I had finished hundreds of pieces, written a book, and found a gallery to house part of the series; I was truly starting to feel as if I could move past these events as a stronger artist and human being.

Things took a turn in my personal life shortly after the show came down, though. I spent quite a few years struggling as my mental health got worse, not better due to a re-traumatization immediately following the show’s closure. I wasted years. I drank to cope. I drank through abusive relationships.  I drank through my father’s illness, death, and funeral.  I drank through some friendships, jobs, and some really close calls. It has been ten years and I am slowly working my way back to a place I left back then. It is hard to ignore the ambivalence and nostalgia. To recognize bridges burned and opportunities drowned in a bottle.  To remember the pain of that time, and also that last piece of myself clawing out of it. It is difficult to just see today and be happy with where my life and career are *now* and sometimes it seems impossible to not dwell in the ideas and notions of “what could have been”.

There is a piece I started right after events shook my life a bit loose. I am working on having it finished finally to debut it on the 10 year anniversary of its inception, January 11th, 2007, not even a week after Memories, Remedies, and Nightmares came down.

[Image of “Agony” in early stages.  The word is still  starkly visible and a prominent feature of the piece].

“Agony” was started immediately following a sexual assault and the intention of the piece was to apply a translucent coat over the word “agony” at the top to see how much temporal distance had to be placed between an event and its disappearance. Or, at a minimum, its obscurance.

Obviously, much has changed over the past 10 years, not the least of which is my perspective.  I have been sober now for half of that time and a mother.  I have spent the last five years rebuilding a life that I allowed to crumble and growing as a person.  I have spent most of the last five years on a relatively steady upward trajectory in mental health as well.  So much so, unfortunately, that a recent wave of stressors and symptoms of the PTSD floored me for a few months.  More will be written on that another day, but, I did feel like I had been sucked back to these days of huddling and trying not to crumble.  I’m still finding truly solid ground.  The One Main Thing I have learned is that none of this mishegaas is ever gone.  It is never erased, or invisible.  You never get it to disappear or shut up.  You quiet it and dull it.  You obscure it into the periphery. And that is what I now hope this piece will reflect to the viewer; an event or experience can never become truly nullified.  And perhaps that is a blessing even when it was, and always will be, tragic.

Temporal Dichotomy

Introductory Statement on a new series,

“Temporal Dichotomy: Evolution and Erosion”

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It seems to have started out with a line from a song. All from me attempting to write a silly little song and that’s how the idea for the series all began. Because I’m not a songwriter, nothing ever came from it musically, but the line would get stuck in my head, over and over again. I think it was something about the “ruins of our love” and the “architecture of our relationship”. It was honestly kind of silly and trite.
But this idea evolved into the two sides of the word “ruin”; the emotional side of destruction and destroying something in an internal and somewhat intangible way, and then the other side of that where you can see the physicality of something as it is destroyed. As it’s broken down. And it just became a fascination with flipping the two ideas and focusing on the physicality of emotional ruin and the evocation of emotion that you get from seeing the physical ruin of something that was once strong beautiful.
The series will also focus on the other side of time lapsed, histories and change. And that is growth. It will examine the underlying architectures and the beauty and character gained through time and the weathering of events, both physical and emotional.

At this moment, the whole concept is a mishegaas of identity, personal and shared histories, the passage of time and its effects on ourselves and our environments. Visually and sociologically, I am fascinated by the patterns that emerge as we are changed, as we grow and as we are destroyed through the lives that we live in the same way that architecture and landscapes are forever changed by everything that contacts them. And, finally, discovering how our identity has been formed by our history, our environment, and how it can be best used to enact positive changes on our environments and societies.

So, it is really a lot to take in, digest, and convey to an audience. My hope is that as the series evolves and is eventually finished and displayed, it will become more clear.

Inside]Out fundraiser

 

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It has now been a couple of weeks since Alpha Home had their fundraiser. It was amazing to be able to attend with my youngest son. He really enjoyed seeing all of the paintings and the hope and happiness that you could see in each piece.

It was a bit surreal to be recognized from the brief interview on our local PBS station. But my son seemed to bask in the attention that we received.

I am very happy that the piece I donated was able to raise a bit of money for the program and I was able to give back just a bit to an organization that really helped to give me a new life.

I am so grateful that I was contacted to participate in this event. Please take the time to check out what Alpha Home does for women day in and day out…

 

Here is a link to the KLRN program, in case you missed it.

The segment on Alpha Home and Art Therapy is near the end.

 

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The Sketchbook Project

It was truly exciting to work on The Sketchbook Project in the 2015-2016 year. I approached the book as something of an intersection of my life at home, which is relatively contained and safe, and the lives of others and atrocities being played out Nationally and Internationally through the media.

It really helped me as an artist, to relate circumstance and society to my work, and ultimately to my identity in a much stronger sense.  It is one thing to be taught values and to know what you believe.  It is another thing entirely to confront yourself with those values and feel them.  It was sometimes uncomfortable, very uncomfortable actually.  Other times it was cathartic, connecting and really reinforced that my value system was indeed internalized and something of which I could be grateful to have been taught.

 

To view the entire Sketchbook, visit The Sketchbook Project‘s Library.  Take a look around at the other books while you’re there, too.

Recovery

Coming Back to Motherhood
Coming Back to Motherhood

Last week, I was asked to do a piece for Alpha Home’s upcoming fundraiser. Alpha Home is an addiction treatment center in San Antonio, TX. I was absolutely honored to be able to contribute to this organization because it is the program that I went through when I got sober over 4 years ago and they continue to do amazing things for women struggling with addiction.

The theme for the art pieces is “Inside Out” and dealt with the feelings and internal struggle of addiction and recovery.  It meant a lot to work on this piece, not only to be able to give back in a small way to a place that helped me so much in my life, but also to be able to re-examine those parts of my life and how it shaped who I am today.

I painted my son, helping me up from where I once was.  Because recovering from alcoholism has given me the chance to be with him (and now my other son) as the mother he deserves.  I conveyed the emotions mainly through the use of color, and honestly, I feel like the piece communicates more of that sentiment than I could articulate with words.

Every day’s a good day with paint

Sara Barcus paints Bob RossI recently got the opportunity to work on a film project with the wonderful guys at Hot Like the Desert Productions. We decided to do an interview and create a timelapse of the creation of a piece. This required that I had to complete a piece in a timeframe that is much shorter than I am accustomed. I decided to plan a fun piece instead of attempting to tackle something similar in detail and process to my typical work.

I am absolutely thrilled with how everything came together for this video. I wanted to do a tribute to Bob Ross, the master of televised painting tutorials. There is something entertaining to me about making a video of myself, painting a portrait of Bob Ross (who was famous for making videos of painting pictures) and have him painting a portrait of my face in his landscape. And when we found the song and then discovered it was open-source, every little thing just came together.

Here’s to happy little accidents. Every day’s a good day with paint.

Abandon

AbandonThere is a photograph of her oldest son in which he is jumping on a trampoline, completely abandoning himself to the air between his feet and the earth. It embodies everything about him, childhood, and life.

His hair is suspended, in the captured moment, in an awkward flop covering one eye as the wind pushes it down against his rising head. His mouth is open as wide as it goes, gulping in the excitement of this experience whole. His arms and legs are crooked in varying directions as his body is flung up beyond his control. He is enthralled. He is entranced. He is ecstatic.

Every child has their first jump on a trampoline, though she isn’t sure that every child has the experience that her son had. Looking at him, she remembers a conversation they had once when he was around 3…

“Mama, I wanna fly.”

“You wanna fly? Like a bird?”

“Yeah, Mama. Like a bird.”

“Oh, well baby, you need wings to fly. We don’t have wings.”

He runs off to another room, leaving her silent and confused. He returns a moment later with his socks and shoes and presents them to her. “Okay. We go to the store. Get wings. So I can fly.”

An intelligent adult would look at him on that trampoline and tragically see a child jumping on a suspended, springy surface, bouncing for as long as his weight and momentum will provide the necessary force for relaunch. They would see the happiness, and the abandon, yes. They would, perhaps, see the struggle to remain on his feet and satisfaction of his own perpetual motion. For all that they would see, they would miss what was right before their eyes.

But he knows the truth…he is flying.

He isn’t falling, he isn’t bouncing, he isn’t jumping. He takes flight as his feet brush with the ground momentarily. He hangs in the air and can feel that gravity is escaping him, even if just for a moment. He is flying. And it is the most beautiful thing she has ever seen.

And you can’t fly if you are weighing yourself down with a world of obligations. You can’t even jump.

Memories, Remedies, and Nightmares

Memories, Remedies, and Nightmares