Artist Q&A with Pedro Barbeito
Pedro Barbeito is a visual artist living in Easton, PA. Over the past 25 years, he has exhibited internationally in fifteen solo exhibitions and participated in over 50 group exhibitions. Solo venues include Basilico Fine Arts in NYC; Lehmann Maupin Gallery in NYC; Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Conn.; Mario Diacono Gallery in Boston; Parra Romero Gallery in Madrid; Galerie Richard in Paris; 101/Exhibit in LA; and Charest-Weinberg Gallery in Miami. His exhibits have been reviewed in the New York Times, Art in America, Art on Paper, The Village Voice, Artpulse, Frieze, Art/Text, Art Nexus, Examiner.com, and others publications in the US and Europe. Barbeito is currently Assistant Professor of Art and Director of Experimental Printmaking Institute (EPI) at Lafayette College.
Who is your favorite artist of all time?
A favorite must be Goya. I’m particularly fond of his tapestry paintings… and there’s specifically one at the Prado Museum that I love. Every time I’ve visited the Prado, I spend some quality time looking at “The Maja and the Cloaked Men.” I can’t quite figure it out, he has other similar paintings there, but this one really draws me in. There’s such a keen play between the composition, the color, the materiality of the paint, the narrative, the humor in the painting, and the skill with which he represents the landscape and figures, their scale, proportions… it’s painterly perfection. I’m glued to it every time.
How did you become a professional artist?
I knew I would be doing this as a profession when I was an undergraduate, but I didn’t start making a living from it for another eight years. I started making an income from selling art in the late 1990s. I was a studio assistant for various artists when I first moved to NYC; they believed in my work and promoted it to dealers. My first solo exhibition was at Basilico Fine Arts in Soho in 1999. The exhibit was reviewed by numerous news media, including the NYTimes and by Jerry Saltz for the Village Voice. Work sold, I quit my day job, and that was that.
What are the influences and inspirations in your work?
There have been many influences and inspirations over the decades, which would take pages to list; there are artists from art history, texts I’ve read, scientific and technological developments that I’ve followed, professors I worked with, and of course, contemporary artists. I want to talk about the contemporary artists that inspire my work and split them into two categories: artists whom I don’t know and whose art I look at, and then the artists I’m in dialogue with, collaborate with, and exhibit with.
Louise Fishman is an artist I never met whose work I’ve been looking at a lot recently. She offers a model that I’d like to follow; her work exists within a tradition of American painting, but it doesn’t follow the rules of that tradition. It breaks aesthetically from abstract expressionism in that the painterly moves and the outcomes of the paintings follow their own logic, not one of formal and compositional balance. They’re complex paintings, some looking unfinished, but if you look at the trajectory of the work, you see how she kept pushing her logic forward and responded to her own set of rules. I also find them incredibly beautiful.
An ongoing influence and inspiration are the artists I’m in dialogue with and occasionally also exhibit with: Fabian Marcaccio, Lydia Dona, and Franklin Evans. Fabian and Lydia are artists whose work I followed in graduate school in the 1990s. They influenced and inspired my early work. Much later, in NYC, we became friends, and the relationship went from me looking at and reading about their work in magazines to having conversations with them about art. They’re artists who challenge and push my understanding of what a painting can be. Likewise, Franklin Evans, whom I met later in the 2000s, and, in his own unique way, pushes the boundaries of how we define and experience a painting space.
How is your work different than everything else out there?
From the mid-1990s into the early 2000s, I used to think a lot about how my work differed from everything else. I would spend time scheming how I could expand the history of painting. Everything digital unfolded in the 90s, the internet (NASA’s website was a big one for me), home computers that could run 2D and 3D software, email… and this seemed like the right medium to disrupt traditional painting and add to the historical dialogue. I still painted, as in pigment was applied to canvas, but everything was mediated through technology, with additions to the canvases that were 3D printed and elements that were laser cut. As I’ve continued to work with and think about painting, I care less about novelty and strategizing how to engage the larger dialogue. I’m now making work that excites me (oil paintings?!?) that I want to live with, and that is anti-digital. The digital landscape is far less interesting to me now than it was in the 90s, and so oil painting, the antithesis of the digital, makes sense. Working with oil paint on canvas abstractly and expressionistically precludes the idea of any distinctive difference from other expressionistic painting. It falls neatly into a tradition; how it’s different is not something I’m actively thinking about or care about.
When is a piece finished for you?
Knowing a painting is finished takes me a few days, sometimes weeks. The piece needs to continue to surprise me over time. It’s a relationship that occurs through me returning to the studio, moving around the painting, and still being surprised and in awe of what I’ve accomplished. It needs to be doing something special as if it has its own intelligence that I can’t quite understand. For example, a couple of days ago, I repainted a painting from two weeks ago that I thought was finished. It started to bother me; I couldn’t look at it anymore as it visually unfolded too easily; some of the elements seemed clunky… so I reworked it.
What’s different about your current body of work?
I’m making abstract oil paintings. It’s the most fun I’ve had making art. I started oil painting back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but I didn’t appreciate it. It felt antiquated and dumb to me as a medium. New technologies in the 90s, digital software and hardware, and the internet, were exciting to me, even presenting the hope for a more equitable future… but everything as we now know can be corrupted. As our world is getting more digitized, I’ve left much of the digital work I was doing behind. I still use 3D printing to make sculptural works, but it’s really in the oil painting that I’ve found my place. Oil painting is the anti-AI, NFT, VR, crypto-digital boring art (I know I sound old) that I now have absolutely no interest in. Materiality and seeing things in real life are just too important to me as far as how I want to experience.
What would you like collectors and curators to know about your work?
That it’s always changing and always evolving. When I first started exhibiting in NYC in the late 1990s, first at Stefano Basilico and then in the 2000s at Lehmann Maupin, everyone was aghast when my work took a visual change. There was a waiting list of 25 people to purchase paintings, and when the ‘change’ happened, they all thought I had lost it, and their interest faded. I had no interest in making work that looked like my work to feed a market. It’s about the long game. If you, as a collector and curator, care about the work, follow what the artist is doing and have some trust. Maybe there’s something interesting happening there aside from objects that look like other objects.
Tell us about a few of your career highlights or moments that have greatly affected your career.
I worked as a studio assistant for Mel Bochner in the 1990s and helped install exhibitions for him worldwide. It was a wonderful experience, Mel’s one of the smartest people I’ve met, and his friendship, advice, and support are moments I will always cherish. I also worked at Two Palms Press in the 90s, and that too was such an important experience, meeting so many amazing artists and working with David Lasry, the owner of Two Palms Press. It was through Mel Bochner and David Lasry that I met Laurie Simmons and Carroll Dunham. Laurie put my work in my first group show in NYC, at Exit Art on Broadway, in 1998. The dinner was at Cindy Sherman’s loft… I remember arriving and her opening the door with a giant parrot on her shoulder. Shortly after this, Carroll Dunham and Mel Bochner convinced Stefano Basilico, the owner of Basilico Fine Arts, that I was worth exhibiting and representing. It was those early years in NYC, 1996-1999, that remain the most meaningful to me.
What’s coming up for you?
I’m in a group show at Platform Projects in April, in Brooklyn, that I’m excited about.
Other than that, I’m working hard in the studio, trying to finish this series of paintings so that I can present them to some galleries I’m interested in.
What advice would you give to an artist just starting out today?
I currently teach at the college level, so I always offer advice to young artists. My advice depends on the artist and what they want to accomplish. There are so many ways one can be an artist today and so many art worlds that it’s hard to be prescriptive. So, my advice to a young artist is to seek advice from someone who knows your work and has accomplished something similar to what you would like to accomplish.
Who are some of your favorite underappreciated artists that you don’t think get enough attention?
I don’t hear that much about Nicola Tyson, and I think she’s amazing. Also, Mel Edwards! I really love his sculptural works and graphic works. Also, Jose Bedia is terrific and huge in Latin America and Florida, but I’ve never seen him exhibit in NYC. I’ve had the good fortune of seeing all these artists’ works in person, and all these artists’ works have an incredible presence. The work is not just about a representation, but they’re physical, material entities that hold visual gravity.
To learn more about Pedro and his work, please visit www.PedroBarbeito.com.