Published Mar. 03. 2015

Artist of the Month - Stephen Barnwell

My definition of an artist is that an artist MUST make art. We have no choice; it is a compulsion of sorts. If I do not make art, I get very depressed, cranky and weird, I can’t sleep -- just ask my wife. So, I make art because I must.

When- and where are you born?

- I was born in 1960 in Passaic, NJ, USA.

Where do you live, and how long have you lived there?

- I was born and raised in New Jersey, lived for ten years in Manhattan, NYC, and now own a home in New Jersey again.

How did you become an artist?

- My father is an artist.  He is a painter, mainly oil but also watercolor.  So I grew up surrounded by art and artmaking.  My father always took the biggest room in the house for his studio, and I am proudly following in his footsteps!  (I have an understanding wife)  I always made drawings, painted, and created things for as long as I can remember.  I went to college as an art/photography major, so I guess I became a full-time artist as soon as I graduated college way back in 1983.

What is your motivation for making art?

- My definition of an artist is that an artist MUST make art.  We have no choice; it is a compulsion of sorts.  If I do not make art, I get very depressed, cranky and weird, I can’t sleep -- just ask my wife.  So, I make art because I must.

How would you describe your style?

- I have always had a restless mind and artistic drive.  I am a photographer, filmmaker, fine artist, printmaker, illustrator, book designer, writer, and sculptor.  I’m not sure I have a single style, as I make so many different kinds of art.  Currently, I am mainly drawing and printmaking.  I do video and photography professionally.  I get bored doing just one thing for too long.  So I have many different bodies of work.

Tell us a little about your inspiration and what you find interesting to investigate through art.

- Well, as I stated above, I do many different types and styles of art.  I have always been interested in surrealism, dreaming, and fantasy, so my early work is mostly fantasy and surrealist drawings, using colored pencils.  I consider myself to be a spiritual person, and I love to explore the deep mysteries of life: life, death, God, dreaming, reality, perception, and the spiritual realm.  Everything else seems unimportant, so why bother making art about ordinary things?

Until 2001, I was apolitical, but the events of 9-11 changed my life forever.  I became politicized and studied world history and foreign affairs deeply.  I also studied about Islam, and how it became politicized in the 20th century.  After 9-11, I started making political prints, which I still do to this day.  I strongly believe that the artist’s job is to not only reflect their times, but also to speak truth to power.  I have a strong desire to address the world’s political climate and challenge people on their safe, comfortable assumptions.  I enjoy provoking reactions and forcing people to see things differently.  That is my main focus right now as an artist.

So, in my artmoney portfolio, you will see a mixture of political works and fantasy and surrealism.  At times, I do get a little burned out on too much politics, so I have to return to fantasy and surrealism to reorient myself and clear my head from incessant conflict.

You have been an artmoney artist for a number of years. How have you used artmoney? Do you have any advice to other artists, on how to use artmoney?

- I have enjoyed making artmoney over the years.  I do not use them as currency, but if I were in Europe, I probably would.  I enjoy making artmoney for several reasons.  First, and most importantly, I use the process of making artmoney to experiment with new ideas and styles.  It is a great way to take chances and try out crazy ideas that you’ve always wanted to do.  For me, making artmoney gives me permission to take risks. 

Second, currency art is a specialty of mine.  I have designed several local currencies in the US, as well as making money art as political satire, so this is a natural extension of that work.  I really believe in the idea of alternative currencies, it is a wonderful way to gently subvert the power of government and to empower local communities.  Finally, artmoney is a great way to bring my art to a new and broad audience – and the exhibition opportunities are nice, too!

When you are not “The Artist” – then who are you?

- I am a professional Director of Photography and commercial photographer in NYC, so I make images every day, all the time.  My life is filled with the processes of image-making.  Who am I without making images? A husband, a Christian, a private pilot, a thinker, a writer. 

What are your hopes and dreams for our world?

- Our world is filled with conflict, and I only see it getting worse in the short-term.  I hope for peace, and an end to terrorism and extremism, but I am pessimistic for the next generation.

What would you tell the reader, if you had no censorship?

Islamic terrorism and the global jihad is the greatest threat to world peace today.  It is THE primary issue for this generation.  This is politically incorrect for some, but I reject and ignore political correctness in my art anyway, so there it is.

Shameless plug: buy my book, Capital Offenses!

Buy Stephen Barnwells ARTMONEY here