Barry Lee- Artist
In 2017 artist Barry Lee shattered the mold of the work we had come to know from him. With the opening of his show How Nice, Barry introduced us to a new dimension of his identity. His familiar illustrations of blissful space dogs were orbiting in a far off galaxy. How Nice transported spectators to a new realm of Barry’s vast universe.
Opening night we unsuspectingly entered Murmur Gallery to discover a collection of cinematic photographs displayed alongside hand written description cards from Barry. The friendly illustrations many have identified as Barry’s work was nowhere to be found. The photographs displayed shared personal experiences of Barry’s life dealing with questions about disability and sexuality. The images ranged from subtle to audacious, from glimpses of a medical examination to portraits of intimacy. As we took in each message, a resounding “yes” reverberated within us. Finally an artist in Atlanta willing to take a monumental career risk by sharing an authentic story.
How Nice not only peeled back the curtain to the life of a disabled or bisexual person. It literally allowed you an opportunity to feel the emotion that accompanies individuals living through experiences different from what we ourselves may know. Barry accomplished this element of his show through a private live performance piece titled Freak Show. With respects to keeping this piece sacred as it’s intended to be experienced live, we will share this: Freak Show left each viewer exposed, vulnerable, and supremely aware of an existence outside of their own. No other art exhibit has left us with a more tangible emotional connection as what Barry created that evening.
"No lie, I feel like this everyday..."
“I think Atlanta is so pigeon held in terms of so many artists doing the same things over and over again. A lot of Atlanta artists aren’t openly showing risks. I wanted to challenge that.”
How Nice also flexed Barry’s artist muscles by his ability to show work through different mediums. As this show was two years in the making, no detail escaped Barry’s thought.
“I love film and I’ve been watching movies from Federico Fellini and David Lynch since I was little kid. I wanted to make something more cinematic looking and not just a photo. Each photo in the series is cinematic in its own way. I took the photos in a cinematic lens versus a photography lens. I wanted it to look like a film set. I created the music that was playing in the back ground, I made the video, and everything was very purposeful.”
Barry is traveling to a new frontier and exploring uncharted territory. Last year’s exhibit has yielded new opportunities his way and he is excited to again share stories through a number of different mediums. “I’ve been doing a lot of research right now. Going back to my roots and looking at what I’ve tackled and thinking how I can go deeper or touch on a concern or an issue that hasn’t been touched on. I think back to the 70’s in New York. I think back to Robert Mapplethorpe who was making super racy gay photos and now he’s trendy. Back then he was shocking the hell out of people. He kept doing it and doing it because that’s what he felt he wanted to do.”
Barry’s creation of How Nice has not only unlocked a door for him, but also for other artists. This is an opportunity to flirt with a more dangerous line and give audiences something unexpected. Art is so much subsequence of our environment. The same political headwinds we faced in 2017 will be ever more present in 2018. In a city like Atlanta where diversity thrives, we are simultaneously submerged in issues of inequality and economic classes. We along with Barry are intrigued to see what this year brings. Barry said, “I think this is a year that will test a lot of people outlets of communication and what they want to say. I hope that more people use their audience to speak up. “
“I made the table only to flip it. I made work that was super approachable, friendly and edible and palatable to people. People responded really well to that and I gained an audience. I use that platform to challenge an audience. I think that’s what we have to do. Challenge an audience that is used to expecting one thing from us and let them know what we think.”
Barry Lee is an artist in Atlanta that is currently in a league of his own. Stepping outside of a safe space and showing new mediums while feeding his audience unsavory truths of reality. We hope to see more artists taking risks and joining his exploration to a new world.
Words by Rigby Wrights
Images compliments of Barry Lee and Jeremy Brown