"Sunshine" by Chantel Barber
I have been following Chantel Barber and her beautiful art for quite some time. I love impressionistic portraits and she does them masterfully. She and I have been appointed State Ambassadors for Portrait Society of America, she representing the state of Tennessee and I, Texas. I really wanted to get to know her better so, I gave her a call. As we spoke, it occurred to me that others would also be inspired by her journey and she graciously agreed to an interview. So without further adieu, it is my honor to introduce you to Chantel Barber.
1) When and how did you first become seriously interested in Art?
My earliest memories are full of art - my own that is - I was drawing before I even realized what I was doing. It was a way to express myself. My parents did not know much about the art world and really were unsure of how to hone my talent. I loved the Walt Disney animated features and by the time I was 6 had decided I wanted to work in their studios when I was older. I do remember a teacher once asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up - my answer “I am already an artist.”
2) What is your training, and what medium(s) / subject matter do you work in?
When I was ten years old my family moved to San Diego CA. For the first time in my life I visited an art museum - The San Diego Museum of Art. My world had suddenly changed. I wanted to create art like those pieces in the museum. My drawings had always been of people and even with this new desire I never wavered from wanting to capture the human soul. It just so happened that our 70 year old neighbor was an artist. She offered to give me art lessons at a very affordable price (which was a blessing since I am the oldest of four children). I was introduced to oil paint and amazing artists that I did not even know existed. She encouraged me to subscribe to an artist magazine and I looked forward to each and every issue. Even now I still remember the excitement as I devoured each page.
My training has never been formal. Circumstances kept me from attending art school, and though I did get a two year degree from the University of Maryland it was only in general arts. In 1990, my husband and I moved to the east coast. He was an officer in the Navy and the movers flat out refused to pack my oil paints. We boxed them up and took them in our car, which unfortunately was broken into and the paints were stolen. This was another pivotal moment in my life. I had enrolled in a art class through a community college and it was in this class that a fellow student introduced me to acrylic. Knowing that I had at least twenty years of moves ahead, beginning to work in acrylic seemed like the ideal choice. Boy was I in for a surprise. It dried so fast and I had no idea how to control it. My teacher had great advice if I wanted to be an abstract artist but none to give on how to use this medium to capture the subject that I loved the most - portraits. I guess I have a stubborn streak in me because I determined then and there that I would master this medium. I spent the next decade and a half learning from oil painters through workshops. The problem was that they were teaching how to achieve their results in oil and I was working in acrylic. There weren’t any acrylic artists that I admired and could learn from - or in all fairness - none that I knew about who worked in the style I dreamed of working in. So I figured out how to translate all that I learned from the oil painters into techniques that worked with acrylic. It required a lot of hard work and patience.
3. What do you try to express in your work?
I absolutely love working in acrylic. There is no doubt in my mind that my style is perfectly suited to it. Although I love painting plein air and still life it truly is in capturing the human soul that I have come home. I have often felt that my words are inadequate but my paintbrush captures exactly what I want to say. My goal is to “enrich hearts and lives through art” and especially art that showcases the human spirit. I want my art to lift people up, not bring them down in a world where there is already enough sorrow and struggles.
4. What artists/professionals have been your biggest influences?
Dawn Whitelaw has had a big influence on my art. There have been times when I felt like being an acrylic portrait artist was not possible in a field where oil is king. Dawn has encouraged me to stay true to the cause and not give up. I have been given an opportunity to be a pioneer for the acrylic medium. It can be lonely being a pioneer but it is also extremely rewarding. There are so many positives working as an acrylic artist. I love the soap and water cleanup. The quick drying time has become one of my favorite aspects of the medium. It keeps me from over working paintings - if the strokes I have just laid down are not correct, they are easily removed with a damp paper towel. The underneath layer remains completely intact since it is already dry. I can immediately see how values have dried and make any necessary changes. I am able to varnish dry paintings days after finishing. There is no doubt in my mind that working in acrylic has strengthened my artistic abilities. Interesting edges, value, composition, and subtle transitions are just as attainable for the acrylic artist as they are for the artist working in oil. Acrylic can be applied thinly or thickly allowing for wonderful contrast in a painting.
5. What would you like to be doing with your art ten years from now?
Along with continuing to strive for excellence in my own work, I look forward to expanding my teaching horizons even further and encouraging artists to explore the possibilities of acrylic. I want to do whatever I can to carve out a niche for the acrylic artist at events such as the PSA annual conference. It would be fabulous to see acrylic vendors and artist demos readily available at these functions.