You go by “Barbtropolis”, a combination of your name (Barbara) and ‘metropolis’. Do you think you can expand more upon what your artist name means?
In a nutshell, it’s my visual realm, The World of Barb. It’s where I let imagination take over, and it’s a home for all my characters. Kind of like how Batman exists in Gotham City and Aquaman in Atlantis, my character crew live and exist in Barbtropolis.
Speaking of combined words, you’ve mentioned that your work carries a bit of “flawesomeness”, a term you’ve coined that incorporates the words “flaw” with “awesomeness”. How is your art representative of flawesomeness, and why is it important that your works contain visible imperfection? In a field where most want to achieve visual perfection, was embracing flaws in your artistic practice something that you desired from the start or did you have to learn to accept and incorporate them?
When I use the term “flawsomeness” I mean it in context of beauty and acceptance. Craftmanship should aim to be Impeccable, but I also believe imperfections are what give us our unique charm. They mirror our own existence – inherently imperfect, yet uniquely captivating in their beauty. I think that’s where the success of the work lies – in its quirks and “flaws”.
I've grown to cherish the freedom that comes with letting go of the strict rules of precision and symmetry. Once I started to freestyle that’s when I was finally able to embrace the liberating sense of creativity. I used to feel a certain monotony whenever I strived for “perfection” and I find my work much more engaging now than it ever was when it was studied.
Your practice is dominated by these whimsical and comedic characters who come in all shapes and sizes as well as containing a multitude of expressions. Where did the inspiration for these figures come from? Are they purely from your imagination or were they inspired by–perhaps–cartoons that you watched in your youth? While creating these characters, do you ever create specific names and stories for them?
I’ve only named two of characters, “KOOKY” and “ZIZI”. The rest of the crew kind of just pop into the picture. Typically, I start with one character down at the bottom of the canvas and create from there – it’s like a cosmic connect-the-dots, one line leads me to the next and the next.
I can’t point specifically where these characters came from, but I have a very soft spot for adorable Asian cartoons. I would say it’s a mix of influence of the million other characters I encounter on a daily basis.
You were born in Brazil, you currently live in New York, and you’ve lived in countless places in between. Did you enjoy this nomadic lifestyle and what has moving around to so many different locations taught you?
It’s a mix bag of emotions really. Growing up with language barriers made it hard to create connections, there was never a true sense of belonging. By the time I’d make friends or get used to something, it would be time to say goodbye and start over again; it’s like a constant cycle of connecting and disconnecting. But it’s also taught me to experience the reality of life fleeting in the sense that what’s here today is literally gone tomorrow. I’m grateful in that it’s kept me grounded in the present. It’s taught me to really cherish the here and now and not dwell on drama or things that are of not very much importance – ‘cuz that too is gone just like that and not worth the attention.
From a bigger picture, I like to think it’s also given me deeper understanding of our shared humanity. Despite physical or cultural differences, beneath the surface we are all very much the same. It’s opened horizons, broken down prejudice. It’s helped create this bigger connection with the world and its people, like I can belong nowhere and everywhere all at once and adapt to just about any environment.
Surfing is a passion of yours, and a good portion of your art is made on surfboards and surfboard fins.What is it about surfing that appeals to you? Can you speak more upon your practices in sustainability when trying to transform old, used surfboards into artworks?
I find surfboards to be fascinating objects but unfortunately, when they break beyond repair, they end up in landfills. I feel upcycling them into art is not only a good way to help the environment but also a way to keep the board and its memories alive. It’s like giving them a new life they deserve, a little gratitude for the adventures they bring us.
Congratulations on painting the elevator mural here in Industry City! From exhibiting at Court Tree Collective to now on the general IC campus, what would you like for your audience to take away with them when viewing your art?
A small re-connection to their younger self. Painting the elevator was such a unique experience in that it allowed me to directly witness people’s reaction to my work in the moment of creation, a departure from the usual solitary act of painting where it’s just me and the canvas. It was genuinely fascinating to observe the different reactions. But what stroke me the most was the overall positive impact it had on them, mostly making them smile or laugh. I think this is the essence of what I hope to achieve with my art – to bring joy, positivity, and serve a gentle reminder that things don’t always need to be so serious. I love when they stop to look and discover little things within the artwork that relates to them.
Last great media (show/movie/book/music)?
“Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro.
I just finished watching “Beckham” Documentary Series.
I listen to a lot of classical music especially when painting: Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, Bach. But I’ve also been really into Afro Pop lately especially when I’m driving to the beach for example.
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Interview by Tiffany Kang