January 5, 2016

Spotlight: Liz Barr

Liz Barr knows the power of a selfie.

I first found out about artist Liz Barr via Instagram, when another ‘net friend tagged her in a picture. Once I followed her, I snooped around her website and completely fell for her work and proceeded to obsessively show her to all of my friends. Liz, who is currently completing her senior year at the University of Pennsylvania, works in a variety of mediums, including textiles, painting, photography, and printmaking. I’m incredibly impressed by her proficiency in such a wide range of mediums but equally taken by the ways she captures her themes. Her incorporation of popular culture, FaceTime calls, and selfies is captured in a way that feel genuine and sensitive, rather than being overly reliant on the relatability of these themes.

One of Liz's standout projects is her recent series of lenticular prints, which employ a variety of images, mostly of Liz morphing into celebrities or younger versions of herself. Liz’s ingenious use of this art type allows an understanding of the way one sees themselves, and for a physical manifestation of the influence celebrity culture has upon us. I was so happy to have the opportunity to speak with Liz about her work, and later, off the record, about Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber.

THE LE SIGH: Prior to art school, what was your dominant medium? How has the way you use this medium changed during your years of school?

LIZ BARR: Before college, I mostly did drawing and painting (classic), but now I hardly do drawing or painting at all. Now that I'm a more interdisciplinary artist, I usually let the idea determine the medium I work in, whereas before, since all I did was draw and paint, I had to make my ideas fit into those media. I think I felt limited by that because now I would find it hard to express most of my ideas through drawing. Though, I still do illustration in my design work, and actually a lot of the young artists I'm inspired by have been making me want to paint again.

TLS: To what extent do you think your work in different mediums play off of each other or complement one another?

 LB: I find myself combining a lot of media in my work. I work a lot with photographic imagery, but I don't necessarily consider myself a photographer. Like, even when I'm using photography, most of my finished pieces aren't prints on a wall. Instead, I combine photography with printmaking, sculpture, zines, performance, etc. At school, I'm challenged to choose the best possible material and form for a piece, so I'm often asking myself not just "glossy or matte?" but "book? poster? t-shirt? mirror?" which is how I've ended up venturing into sculpture and objects.

TLS: Selfie culture is a big part of modern life yet, in most cases, they are hard to monetize, as proved by Kim K's sale of only 30,000 copies of Selfish while (now) having 55.1 million Instagram followers. Do you see a profitable future for selfies or do you think they will remain (mostly) contained to spaces that make direct exchange of money difficult?

LB: Ugh, I worry about how much I think about monetizing things lately! I think it's because my university is dominated by our business school and is super "pre-professional." That, plus generally living under capitalism. But anyway, I think selfies have already been monetized a lot. I didn't realize Kim's book didn't sell that well (I bought a copy!), but I think celebrities have been successfully profiting off of selfies for awhile now. Like, the Kardashians get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to pose with products on Instagram, or even just name-drop them. I think they can be profitable in indirect ways, too, like how Sanam got discovered by Rihanna because of a selfie on Instagram, and even on my own Instagram, my selfies usually get more attention than anything else I post, but if people follow me because of my selfies and then see the work I post because of that, that's fine with me!

TLS: In what ways do you think that a constant exposure to one's face, both through gazing social media platforms and frequent front facing camera slips, changes one's view of themselves?

LB: That’s a good question! I don't know, I guess it's made me more aware of myself and how I look. I've always been one of those people who stares in mirrors and windows all the time, not just out of vanity but fascination. I think selfies have definitely made me more comfortable with the way I look, but I guess social media has made me more self-conscious in ways. I'm confident enough to post pictures of myself online, but I also do it out of a desire for quantified validation, you know? But I'm also really down with people validating and complimenting each other online.

TLS: Do you feel as if the way you represent yourself within your work is different from how you’d represent yourself with a selfie that’s not used for your artwork?

LB: Well, I think that used to be the case. When I take a more planned "self-portrait" for my work, it's definitely different from a quick, casual selfie. But selfies have made me more aware of my angles and how I look, so I think that's influenced how I behave in front of the camera. Anyway, now I've been incorporating more selfies into my work when I want to use the visual language of social media and digital aesthetics, so art and selfies have been blending into each other for me.

TLS: Outside of visual artists, who or what has inspired your work (whether it be musicians, friends, buildings, etc.)? 

LB: I think just being online has influenced my work a lot. I see so many images every day on Tumblr and Instagram, and obviously some of that is work by other artists, but it's also fashion and design and pop culture, all of which I find inspiring. A lot of my friends, including my partner, are artists, writers, and musicians so I'm always inspired by what they're doing, too.

Liz's work can be found on her website here.

Rachel Davies is a student and freelance writer in Toronto and founded the zine distro, The Piece of Work. In the physical world, she can be found listening to Justin Bieber in a campus library but, in cyberspace, she's tweeting @rachelcomplains.