Barbara Lee Smith 2016
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I’ve worked at making things for about 50 years. I work in order to find an answer or two to my questions, and it’s a joy when something appears within my work that leads me to think that I’ve asked the right question.


I’ll never know all the answers, but the explorations that have arisen over the years do help me understand some things: I’ve learned that creation arises from destruction. Seen in terms of my materials, I cut, melt, burn, tear and then paint, sew, mend, and something new happens. That’s basic, but it’s also universal as I look at the world around me, the tide hauling detritus out to sea, transforming it and sending it back to the land. I see relationships broken and mended; illness and accidents healed; people finding strength to battle tyrants. 

I deal with both my passive and active nature, my ripe age and youthful outlook, each fighting for freedom from the other. Trying to find the balance between opposing ideas; to maintain an effective equilibrium in making art within my capabilities, my craftsmanship. To be both at one with my materials but also to be free of my sense of their limitations; in other words, to play as I work.


I love music for its abstract nature as well as when it is set to a text; a symphony or a song. In art, I love to work both in recognizable imagery as well as non-representational, abstract art. The secret, for me, is that all my work is inspired by nature: close, far, messy, perfect, mundane and awesome. I’m in love with the details, the square inches of light, dark, bright, transiting across the art on the wall or the ground beneath my feet. When I observe someone looking at my work, I know that they’ve ‘got it’ when they are pulled into the work to see its details and then back up once again to see the big picture. That movement echoes what I think of as my dance as I compose the work.

I see beauty in the midst of chaos. It's difficult to appreciate beauty these days, but it's even more important to discipline myself to do just that. Beauty provides calm and strength: strength to care, to be kind, to be resolute, to love and be loved, to heal.

Making The Work

Materials: I use only one material, an industrial grade polyester non-woven fabric. It looks like paper, but it is tough stuff. It is my canvas on which I paint, using Golden acrylics as well as silk-paint pigments, all chosen for light-fastness. Each finished piece attaches with Velcro to a wooden frame, mounted in a way that the work appears to float on the wall.


Process and Techniques: I make a painting on the material, then bond several layers together to form a heavy base on which to collage small elements of the same painted material. All the elements are fused with a heat-setting material that binds them together and stiffens the material. Once the composition is complete, I machine stitch a line resembling a topographic or navigational map that both literally and visually ties the various layers of paint and collage together. 


I see this as a three-stage process of painting, collage and drawing to make the work. What do I call it? I call it art; mixed media.