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An Exclusive Interview with Sculptor Jerry Ross Barrish

Renowned sculptor Jerry Ross Barrish is a San Francisco native and graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute. Known for his unique sculptural style, Barrish creates striking figures from found plastic materials, which he occasionally transforms into bronze sculptures. His work is in several prestigious, permanent collections, including The Oakland Museum of California, San Jose Art Museum, Berkeley Art Museum, and Crocker Museum. We sat down with Barrish to chat about his artistic journey, inspirations, and partnership with Tuleste Factory in New York.



Miami Living (ML): Can you tell us about your journey as an artist, from your studies in sculpture and film to your transition into producing narrative films and then returning to sculpture?


Jerry Ross Barrish (JB): I'm not one of these artists who had mentors or that did work as a child or anything like that. I didn't do any art growing up at all. I started out as a collector.


As a collector, I saw a lot of really bad art. I decided to call one of the artists whose work I had purchased and asked if I could work in their studio and learn how to “do stuff with tools” and try my hand at sculpting. I started in metal. We used all kinds of different metals that we could find, scrap metal more than bronze.


Then I got a letter from the government saying that if I didn't use my GI Bill within, I think it was five years, I would lose it. That motivated me to apply to the San Francisco Art Institute in sculpture. I was accepted to SFAI and it changed my life.


My first day of class I decided I would try to learn something I knew nothing about and I changed my major to filmmaking. I didn't know anything about filmmaking. If it wasn't for that school, I would have never been a filmmaker.


At the time I was at the school, everyone was into abstract and avant-garde films. I was a storyteller and I wanted to make films that had a narrative. That was out of whack with the school and it didn't matter to me. I had my own path and I decided to make a few documentaries to learn how to make a

movie.


After I graduated, I made three narrative feature films, which I wrote and directed and edited. And in the first film I even did the cinematography. That was my journey. I didn't know I was going to go back to sculpting. I thought that filmmaking was going to be my artistic outlet.


After three feature films, and without getting any real support in the film community, not getting a producer and money to make other films, I was in my fifties and realized that my career in filmmaking was not going to happen, unless I kept financing my own films. At that time, I happened to live on a dirty beach. I cleaned up some of the plastic in front of my house and created a Christmas tree, and that opened up a whole new door visually for me. And then I found myself going back to sculpting, and, at the same time, keeping my true self as a narrative artist, telling stories with my work.


Horse With No Name (1997)


ML: Your sculptures often incorporate plastic found materials. What draws you to this medium, and how does it influence your creative process?


JB: As I was putting the found plastics together to make little collages and stuff, the material really started to work for me. While at the Art Institute, I learned that the hardest thing for artists to do is to find their own voice and make that voice unique. So my work is in no way derivative of other artists. I happen to be very fortunate that I found an outlet that makes my work quite unique. I still haven't seen anybody doing what I'm doing, and I really look at the material as real, as precious as stone or marble or bronze. I don't see myself as an environmental artist, even though I know my work triggers environmental discussion and awareness.


Blue Boy (1992)


ML: "Plastic Man" delves into your artistic process and the themes of your work. What inspired you to create this documentary, and what message did you hope to convey through it?


JB: It wasn't my idea to make a documentary about myself. There was a German director named Ilona Ziok. She lived in Berlin and was a documentary filmmaker. She made a studio visit and really thought that I would be a good topic for a film. She decided she wanted to make a film about me and she hired William Farley [director of "Plastic Man"] to interview me. For many years the interview just sat there in Berlin and nothing happened with it. And then Janice [Plotkin, the film’s creative producer] approached me and she was wanting to do something creative after working in film festivals her whole life. She produced the film.


Ball Walker (2005)


ML: Congratulations on being represented by Tuleste Factory in New York. What do you hope to achieve through this partnership with Tuleste Factory?


JB: Thank you. Well, being a West Coast artist, I always felt that there was a bias against West Coast artists. I have had hundreds of shows. I've had art placed in collections, in museums, but I never sold East of Mississippi. The farthest I ever got was South Dakota. I tried to break into the East Coast art scene, but it was very difficult because one of the biggest problems I had was the cost of shipping my work back there. It was really hard for a gallery to take me on, it seemed to be a really big factor.


I am so grateful to Satu and Celeste [Greenberg, owners of Tuleste Factory]. They believe in the work. Being represented by them is one of the most important milestones of my creative life. Like most artists, affirmations are really important. Recognition is really part of the process. And this whole thing with New York and Tuleste gives me a new audience.


Just at the recent opening, I had hundreds of people see my work, who didn’t even know I existed before. And it was just wonderful to see. Also, Tuleste is giving me a young audience. I've never had a young audience before.



ML: You recently had an exhibition during Frieze New York with Tuleste Factory. Which works were shown? How was it received? Can you share any upcoming projects or exhibitions we can expect to see as a result of this collaboration?


JB: We showed a large body of work that spanned nearly 40 years. 27 pieces of found object plastic, and 5 bronze. Well, based on the enthusiasm of “the Chelsea girls” [Celeste Greenberg and Satu Greenberg, owners of Tuleste Factory], they were thrilled by the response of the work.


When it comes to praise, I have to tell you that the praise I received was a bit overwhelming. It was a lot of affirmation. I just sat there and was just amazed at how the people responded to my work. I could not be happier.


I have a new show opening in Santa Cruz in June. It's a group

show, and I'll have nine pieces exhibited. With Tuleste Factory, my work will be included in their installations at NYCxDesign and Salon Art and Design in the coming months.


Elegant Parasol (2008)


ML: What inspires you? In the past and currently in your work?


JB: I get inspiration from everywhere. I've got no artistic block. I can get inspired by the title of the song, by watching two lovers on a beach. I can get inspired by the materials. Sometimes the materials tell me what they want to do, and sometimes I just go on my own and decide I want to do a Marlene Detrich or make an airplane. I have an understanding of materials now where I can make almost anything. I'm always inspired. I never get tired. If I do a really major piece that takes much emotional effort to make, I might have to take a few days just to recoup or recharge my batteries but I never run out ideas and of things to do.


Elegant Llama (2023)


ML: Have you visited Miami? Any favorite places especially for art or design? Do you have hopes or plans to participate in Art Basel?


JB: I have. I've been to Miami three times. "Plastic Man" was shown in Key West. It showed there twice. It was a big success in terms of a large crowd seeing the movie. And then I went to an International Sculpture Conference in Miami, which happened at the same time of Art Basel. It was really exciting to participate, but as a voyeur.


I don't know Miami well enough, I would like to get to know it better. I have been told that my work would fit well in many museums and galleries of Miami.

I would love to participate in Art Basel. Tuleste Factory participates and has a strong voice in Design Miami. I'm 84 and having work shown in Art Basel is on my bucket list.



By ML Staff. Images courtesy of Tuleste Factory


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