Shawn Barber "Memoir: The Tattooed Portraits Series" @ Joshua Liner, NYC

June 25, 2012

Los Angeles-based fine artist and tattooist Shawn Barber is set to open a new body of work, Memoir: The Tattooed Portraits Series, at Joshua Liner Gallery in NYC on Thursday, June 28. The exhibition comes in conjunction with Barber's new book of the same name, a documentation behind the scenes and into the personalities of contemporary tattoo.

From the Gallery: 

Joshua Liner Gallery is pleased to present Memoir: The Tattooed Portraits Series, an exhibition of new paintings by the Los Angeles-based artist Shawn Barber. This is Barber’s second solo show with the gallery and his most personal work to date.

The exhibition is presented in conjunction with the forthcoming hardcover release of Memoir: The Tattooed Portraits Series. This is the third volume in Barber’s ongoing series documenting the world and artistry of contemporary tattoo, as seen through the eyes and art of a classically trained portrait painter as well as a tattooist for the last five years. Memoir, the exhibition, will include twenty five oil paintings by Barber that have been reproduced in Memoir (the book) in rich, full-color plates.

Many of these subjects are tattoo artists, such as the celebrated Shige of Yokohama, Japan. A stunning 6-x-9-foot triptych, Barber’s Portrait of the artist Shige (2010–12) is a panorama with nine full-length views of the artist, rendered in the nude to reveal the splendor of his own corporeal canvas. With each slight turn of the subject, he displays a pageant of masterful imagery—fire breathing dragons, ornate scroll designs, beautiful female faces, etc.—coursing across the expanse of smooth skin between his neck and ankles. The majority of Shige’s tattoos were done by master tattooist Filip Leu and in Barber’s largest painting to date, he uses a vivid scarlet background and atmospheric washes to complement the dramatic and colorful tattoo work, suggesting its vital, pulsing relationship with the body.

Other works, like James Spencer Briggs at Work (with Aaron Wahlman) (2011–12) and Freddy Corbin’s Temple (2011-2012), evoke the milieu, processes, and protocols of the tattoo parlor, with its paraphernalia and intense concentration. Barber further captures this intensity with a taxonomist’s precision in a group of small still lifes that isolate the distinctive hardware of specific tattoo artists, such as Daily Driver, Micky Sharpz Liner Machine, Single Needle Shader (2012). Still other works, like Abstracted Self Portrait (2010–12), group multiple views of arms and other body parts as free-floating examples of contemporary tattoo—they are inextricable from their fleshy surfaces and inert without them, for artist and viewer.

As a painter, Barber comments on the act of mark-making itself, including aspects of the pictorial, the sensual, the practical, and the personal. His meticulous brush strokes, in oils on canvas, echo the inked traces of needle on skin. He treats these surfaces in much the same way; the vivid palette and subtle shadings used to recreate the tattoo designs are just as crucial to capturing the varying tonalities of skin, shadow, and setting.

In this exhibition and book, Barber lovingly chronicles a fascinating world, its artist denizens, and aficionados, many of whom are notable in their own right, such as Don Ed Hardy, Kim Saigh, Stanley Moskowitz, Grime, Henry Lewis, and Adrian Lee. Also featured are actress/comedian Margaret Cho, who contributes the foreword to Memoir, and NeedlesandSins.com blogger, Marisa Kakoulas, who provides the volume’s introduction.

“As a figurative painter, my interests are influenced by the past and the tradition of documenting influential and interesting people,” says Barber. “I look to examples by Velazquez, Goya, Rembrandt, and Lucian Freud. Authenticity is what’s important…these are not generic models, airbrushed and edited for the masses. These are people that matter.”

Shawn Barber
Memoir: The Tattooed Portraits Series
Joshua Liner Gallery
June 28—July 28, 2012
New York, New York