An Interview With Fiber Artist Angus Barr
Angus Barr rests in the middle of his latest perfomance/installation, "Diner."
AE: Angus, I've been following your work for the past year or so, and I am especially curious about the titling. What is the significance of "Diner?"
AB: Sure. The title, like all my titles, is a reference to the timeframe of the work. My benefactors left me with the materials for the duration of a trip to the diner for breakfast. So I usually have a small time period in which to execute a work, but this time I had a good two hours.
AE: Many call your major work of last year, "Ten Minutes," a tour de force.
AB: Well, I was in better shape back then. My benefactors left me with three balls of blue acrylic yarn and they went into the basement for ten minutes.
AE: I saw the result. You managed to unroll three balls and wrap them around chairs, up over tables, and into three rooms.
AB: Yes, my experience in dance and the martial arts was instrumental in that work. I've taken a much more cerebral approach with "Diner," however, plus, I'm working with an assistant, which is an adjustment.
AE: How so?
AB: Well, she's a little green. Enthusiastic, but I'm not used to the verbal interplay. But we'll get there. It's a new process, far less impromptu and improvisational, but due to the larger time frame, we were able to put some care into the placement of the material. I consider this one a drawing, where the other works were more performances.
AE: What are some of the other new aspects of "Diner?" It does feel like a departure.
AB: I'm working with rag strips for the first time. So instead of one long, continuous line, it's a collection of shorter ones. Metered lengths, like bars of music. It's much harder to harness the material, and to draw the eye into neighboring rooms.
AE: Do you consider yourself a formalist? Who are your influences?
AB: Well, there is the obvious draw from Andy Goldsworthy, who was a huge influence on me in my earlier days: his respect for found materials and for the investigative experience. But he has a level of patience that I haven't learned yet. Also, Eva Hesse, from a formal point of view, her sence of gravity and materials. And I've learned a lot from Cy Twombly and his sense of drawing and mark making, the mark as "signature," like handwriting. I also consider myself an American artist, hence the use of traditional craft materials. Yarn, used in the making of afghans (which I enjoy), and now the rag strips, which are traditionally used for woven or braided rugs (which are great to curl up on as well). I have a great respect for artists who work in the tradition of American crafts, such as story-quilt maker Faith Ringgold. They display a resourcefulness and a respect for the past that I find moving. But maybe because my memory is shot, for me it's more about the present. Improvisational play, in the moment. I find inspiration in jazz music too, Miles Davis, Coltrane, whoever my benefactors have on the stereo, I suppose.
AE: I noticed you used the rag strips to frame the Adidas in the center of the work. Do you consider this a nod to pop art, and the presence of brand names in the American psyche?
AB: I don't really think about brand names. I'm a cat, remember. Maybe when it comes to kibble, but I don't follow shoes.
AE: Of course. Which leads me to another question: it's no secret that you spent several years as a homeless feral on the mean streets of Brooklyn, and have experience in gang warfare. I know you've put that life behind you, but do you find any residue of it creeping into your work?
AB: It's hard not to draw that conclusion, though honestly I'm not sure. My homies on the street were graffitists, and their main medium was urine. The problem with olifactory art is that it's limited to a four-legged audience. So getting civilized, and having human benefactors, that's necessitated exploring new materials. Plus, after my mysterious surgery two years ago, my pee is not what it used to be.
AE: Well, thank you Angus for taking the time to talk to us.
AB: My pleasure. Say, is there any food in that bowl?