Did you know the OPP blog has been featuring exceptional, living artists since 2011? We are committed to looking at the full trajectory of each Featured Artist's work, as represented on their websites. As an artist myself, I don't think of individual artworks or projects in a vacuum. I'm more interested in how one work leads to another and what drives artists to keep making. So it's exciting to revisit artists interviewed in the first few years of the blog and find out what's changed and what's stayed the same in their practices. Today's artist is Libby Barbee (@libby.barbee).
The Commutation of Distances, 2018. Print on panel. 24" w x 66"-72" h
OtherPeoplesPixels: What's new in your studio, practice or work since you were interviewed back in 2012?
Libby Barbee: Wow! So much is new—and yet, nothing at all. I am still creating work that is broadly centered around the relationship between nature and culture, and often specifically focused on American frontier myth. However, though the themes I’m investigating have stayed the same, my approach to making artwork has changed a lot. Back in 2012, I was doing studio work full-time and most of what I was making was very time intensive. A large part of my practice was focused on intricate collages that took me months in the studio to complete.
The World Finally Gives Way, 2016. Cut paper and collage. 36"h x 48"w
Since then, I have had two babies and a very full second career. Making art is non-negotiable, so my practice has had to adapt and become more flexible. These days, I work a lot faster and in a much more focused manner. I do a lot of work from my computer, which frees me to work a little more nomadically. I have been working with digital prints that I can compose wherever I am, whether that is at the kitchen table while my children are napping or between classes at the University where I am teaching.
Astral America, 2016. Installation (digital prints mounted on plywood, sand, cacti, backpacking gear)
I have been surprised to find that though I have a lot less time to spend in the studio, I have been much more productive and have had a ton of cool opportunities come my way. The last year especially was a whirlwind of art-making. I collaborated with fellow Denver artist Bill Nelson to complete a participatory art piece titled The Sound Mirror Project. The project was really different than anything that I had done before and has left me wanting to do more participatory work.
MLRA 69: Upper Arkansas Valley Rolling Plains, 2018. Cut paper and ink.120"h x 36" w
Over the spring and summer, I worked on a piece commissioned by the Gates Family Foundation that used cut paper and prints to visualize data about the effects of agriculture and grazing on soil ecology. In the process, I was able to spend time working with a USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service Rangeland Specialist, from whom I learned so much about sustainable grazing and agriculture. I am convinced that the sciences urgently need artists to make environmental knowledge understandable and compelling, and to help propel movement towards sustainability. I hope to have more opportunities to work with scientists and ecologists in the near future.
Shapeshifters, 2018. Installation. 22'w x 12'h
I also had the opportunity in the fall to do a large installation at Facebook’s corporate offices in downtown Denver as part of the FB AIR (Facebook Artist in Residence) Program. The piece was installed the same week that my son was born, so things got a little nutty, but it was a really cool project and resulted in work that I am very proud of.
In addition to my studio practice, I have the amazing fortune to be able to work with artists in other aspects of my work life. In one corner of my life, I manage grant programs for artists at RedLine Contemporary Art Center in Denver. The Arts in Society program that I run provides $500,000 per year to support cross-sector work in the arts in CO. I have been endlessly inspired by artists who are using their art to make impacts in areas such as health, science and community welfare. In another corner of my life, I teach studio classes at local universities. I love working with young artists, and students are constantly giving me new ideas and fueling my curiosity.