Tristan Barlow is a Mississippian transplant to London, where just a few years after earning an MFA from the Slade he continues to experiment with stunning abstractions in oil paint. Very happy to share his work here, and make sure to check out more at the links below!
Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I’m from Jackson, Mississippi. I grew up in the South and went to university in southern Mississippi for my BFA, where I began to paint. I had a couple old-school professors there who changed my life and pointed me in the right direction: out of the South. I studied with Ridley Howard for a semester in Italy, which opened my eyes to the contemporary art world, of which there was little access to in Mississippi. After I graduated, I went to NYC and studied for a year at the New York Studio School with Carole Robb, a Scottish painter who I met at the Chautauqua Art Institute residency while I was doing my BA. I worked on a portfolio to get into graduate school in Europe and ended up at the Slade. I finished my MFA at the Slade in 2015. While there, I made a tight-knit community, fell in love, and ended up sticking around. Several years later I am still in London painting.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
I first discovered music as a kid. Music has a much stronger hold in tradition in Mississippi than visual art. I played guitar for a solid ten years with a crew of Mississippi kids who didn’t want to play on the football team and would rather smoke pot. I took an art class in high school where I first realized that painting was a thing with further capacities than watercolour flower and nostalgia. My teacher showed me Diebenkorn, Picasso, and Cezanne, and that did the trick. I made some terrible paintings of girls and cats, people in bars, and I loved it.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
My paintings are a mix of ideas that have built up over the years. I have a very strong relationship to art history, old Italian masters of the quattrocento, and the romanticism of ideas concerning space, ruminations of old teachers that have bounced around in my head and turned themselves into mythology. Though my paintings are, for the most part, “abstract,” I think of them more as an arena of spatial possibilities where the confluence of ideas is transformed into a visual language of symbols. Mark-making, layers, pigment, and a willing suspension of disbelief concerning the impossibilities of space lends itself to a world of visual fictions.
What is your process like?
I work with oil paint and that affords a plethora of possibilities. I experiment often in my application of paint. I edit, scrub, scrape, layer, etc…
Visually, my process is a filtering of ideas and notions from all sorts of sources. The idea of a mirrored image and Narcissus can send me through 20 paintings. So can a trip to the British museum or the light from a beach in Florida. Or what it would be like if Botecelli were to make a whole painting of grass and flowers? What if the Ancient Egyptians had internet?
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
My first professor in Mississippi, who I must give a lot of credit to, told me, “Son, in this business you gotta fish or cut bait.” That, inexplicably, has come back to mind many a time.
What is your studio like?
My studio is in Brixton. I share it with my partner, Agi. We both paint while listening to podcasts in our earbuds. There is a nice big window, and unlike our previous studio, there is a HUGE heater, which calls for sandals year round, even in the winter. It is a great place to be.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
I hate networking. I love drinking beer with friends. There is a fine line between the two.
I’m pretty much always broke, just like most artists. I hate the number of hours freelance part-time jobs take my time away from the studio. That said, I live with an uncanny amount of freedom compared to most of capitalist society.
All the creative woes of making work, I will not complain about. I love them in a strange way. Making art is one of the most challenging things there is to do. There is no fun in things that come easy. From an evolutionary perspective, I think our brains are hardwired to need a purpose for being. On a planet with eight billion people, it is hardly possible for everyone to have a purpose; however, I think being an artist is close to being a shaman in a tribe. It strikes an old nerve.
What are three words you would use to describe your work?
What are you working on right now?
A painting with too much color that is really making me uncomfortable.
Anything else you would like to add?
Thanks for reading!