PASTICHE, HYBRIDS, AMALGAMS: A Conversation in the Studio of Adriana Barrios and Barbara Justice
(Interviewer: Austin Eichelberger, Editor for SPACES)
Adriana Barrios and Barbara Justice are a printmaker/mixed media artist and a photographer, respectively, currently working out of Santa Fe, New Mexico after establishing themselves in the independent gallery and art scene of San Antonio, Texas. I was recently able to meet up with these two extremely driven artists in their shared studio to talk about their art, their experiences running a gallery, and making it work in the studio.
Austin: First off, how did each of you get into art? And how did you get into braving the art world together?
Adriana: Well, I hung out with graffiti artists when I was younger and I used to do a little bit of tagging with this girl-group we had. The guys we used to hang out with influenced us. They showed me what graffiti art was, and then we would draw in sketchbooks, and go write on bus stops, and on the backs of seats on the buses and trolleys. It was just too scary for me – I was always paranoid we would get caught.
But so I knew that I liked to draw. I was always into that. Then I went to college and took some drawing in San Diego. I wasn’t so interested in my first class because it was a perspective drawing class, and I just thought it was so mathematical and weird – things like trying to draw a hallway with perfect perspective – and I didn’t like it at all. When we moved to San Antonio, I took a drawing class that was different than any other I had taken, and I was into it. And then I started getting really good grades, and I was like, “I’m doing something right.”
Barbara: Also, you were really inspired by your teachers.
Adriana: I was. I was at San Antonio Community College then and they are, in San Antonio and some parts of South Texas, recognized for having really good faculty and for bringing up really great artists for a community college.
But yeah, I just started taking art classes and got really into it, and took my first printmaking class and met Sabra Booth, who’s a good friend of ours now, but was my teacher at the time. We just had a really good relationship. She put me in a group to do a show with the class, and she picked me out one time to be part of this collaborative show with some of her students from the past. That was the biggest thing – having a real show. That was the biggest, most nerve-wracking thing ever. Once you get over it, it’s like, “Okay, that was good.” I just wasn’t super confident in what I was doing, even though the work was pretty solid. That’s how I got into it. And then after meeting Barb, we started doing more shows together and curating shows.
Barbara: Well, I started college with an education degree because my mom was a teacher and she was like, “You should do it. It’s gonna give you benefits.” I was like, “Okay, all right. I can do this.” So the first two years of school I was an education major and I just didn’t like it – I didn’t like working with kids, I didn’t like running the classroom. I realized that my passion was being creative, and I’ve always been into photography and looking at scenes and color and imagery – it was just really fascinating to me, so I decided to do it. I decided to come out. I said I was going to take that time and just whatever was going to happen in my life was going to happen and it was all up to me. So, I got into art school – I actually went for about a year or two and then I decided I wanted to learn how to weld, because I wanted to make furniture, so I went that direction. I went to a trade school and learned how to weld for a year, decided I wanted to go back to art school and finish my degree and that’s when I met Adriana, because she was there when I finally got back to finish my art degree. We had lots of classes together.
Adriana: And we hung out with the same people. But we knew each other for like two years before we started actually dating. She opened the studio space in Blue Star in San Antonio and then started having openings and then she was like, “Come move in,” and I was like, “Okay. Let’s do this!” She needed help in the studio space because she was doing shows once a month – every first Friday – and it was a lot of work.
Austin: Can you tell us about the space where you were doing those shows?
Barbara: Well, our space was called Justiceworks Studio. It was located in Blue Star, which is basically a warehouse space that was turned into living spaces. It was just a big, open, 1000 square-foot room, basically. It had tall ceilings and was beautiful. There was really kind of an industrial feel to it. Some other artists had showing spaces, but 80% of the spaces in that complex were living spaces. I wanted do gallery shows there, so when Adrianna moved in we started it together. We would cut off half of our studio space with these dividers and have a show on one side while our living space was on the other side. We were going to school, running a gallery space, and we both had jobs, so we were busy. But it was fun. It was quite an experience.
Adriana: We mostly showed a lot of our friends that we were in school with, but also people we met through other people, other friends that we just thought needed to be showing their work – emerging artists in San Antonio, mostly. And they have a lot of galleries there, but students that wanted to be showing their work weren’t being shown and so we took advantage of that. It was great work and people started coming into our space and saying, “Oh, that’s really good. These guys – I wanna show them now.” Y’know, commercial galleries and smaller galleries there.
We had so much support in our space, too – our professors would come by and promote the space. They asked if they could curate student shows in our space, which was really cool.
Austin: How awesome! Since you’ve been working together for a while now, I’m sure you’ve developed some creative routines. What is a normal day in the studio like for you two?
Adriana: Usually she’ll be working over there doing her thing and I’ll be over here doing my thing, pretty much. But starting in a couple weeks we’re going to both be working on some screen prints together, so she’s going to be working with some of her photographic stuff and I’m going to start pulling some large, fat colors and textures and stuff like that. In screenprinting you can just keep pulling and pulling color and you really have a lot of things to work with. We’ll be working on the same process, so we’ll see how that goes. I know a little more about it than she does, so I’m going to try to teach her about the process.
Barbara: Right. And for some of her latest work, she did screenprints which inspired me because I saw her screenprinting and the results are very flat and smooth. I looked at them and I said, “Ooh, I want to try some of that.”
I think a normal day is us coming in here with our own ideas, you know, turning the music on, and zoning out in our own heads. And she’s working on her stuff, I’m working mine, and then once in a while we’ll be like, “Okay, what do you think?” That’ll go on for about ten minutes and then we’ll go back to what we’re working on. Sometimes we’ll come in here and spend two hours, sometimes we’ll come in here and spend eight to ten hours. We don’t come in by ourselves very much.
Adriana: No. We just come in together.
Austin: So you each like that feeling of having another person around while you work? Because it can be really nice in terms of, like you said, asking for notes.
Adriana: Mm-hmm. It’s something that we learned about in college and while working in a studio with multiple people working at the same time – how great it is in a visual teaching environment to see what other people are working on, talk about other things and distract yourself from your work for a little while. That can be important – leaving it, looking at someone else’s work, bullshitting about something that has nothing to do with art, and then getting back to it. Just being in that kind of cycle is a good way to be creative, I think. I feed off of that. I think too that photography studios and printmaking studios are studios in which there’s usually more than one person working.
Barbara: Another thing I want to mention is that one of the reasons I started using more non-digital methods is because we do have a studio here, you know? When we first started out getting our studio space, Adriana really wanted a space to work in, and I said, “Well, okay, let’s get a space.” And I was asking myself, “How am I going to use the studio if I’m just out taking pictures?” And then I thought that it would really give me a chance to work on my alternative stuff, and you know, spread out and use the space. So I think having a space has allowed me to work on different processes.
Adriana: That’s totally true for me, too, because when we moved here I initially was like, “I gotta find a printmaking studio.” You know, to find a press, to rent press time, but there’s nothing like that available in Santa Fe. But I was relying on it. I was relying on it for me to be creative, and then I finally was like, “Why? That’s silly.” I bought all these new materials and I’m working with screenprinting, which is kind of a multiple-printmaking process, but I’m also just drawing again.
Barbara: Having a space has allowed us to figure out different ways to experiment without having the tools that we had in college – for me a dark room, and for her a printing press. And a printing press, if you haven’t seen one, is a huge piece of equipment.
Austin: Which none of us can afford.
Barbara: Right. So it’s kind of allowed us to figure out different means of making our images.
Adriana: It’s been great. It’s challenged both of us.
Austin: Can you describe some of the methods each of you use in the studio? Are there any processes you dislike that create results which you do like?
Barbara: I’ve been doing a lot of digital photography ever since I got out of school. I worked commercially for a little bit when I got out of school and I got really bored with that, so I wanted to go back to the whole process of doing hands-on experiments with photography. I’ve been working with chemicals again because I really missed that. I missed being in the dark room and I missed, like, slow results.
As for the process that I don’t really that makes results I enjoy, for me that would be digital photography, because it’s fast, I get results quick and I do like the end results, but for me the process is not enjoyable.
Also, people go into photoshop and just overdo it… I don’t know, I’ve just gotten bored with seeing that, so my whole idea is going back to basics. I use a lot of film cameras and I like old cameras and film. I love the results of film and I like holding it in my hand, I like the way it feels, the way it smells – I love the physical aspects of it.
One thing about using a digital camera is that you can shoot and then you can look at it right away. You can shoot and look, shoot and look, and that irritates me, but that’s the habit now with digital cameras. You can’t do that with film cameras. It’s the element of surprise that I like, I guess.
Adriana: Yeah, totally. And getting that roll of film in the negatives and seeing what you got a week later after it’s been processed.
Barbara: Yeah, that’s fun. Really, my heart will always be with film and real cameras, but I’m not going to say that I don’t like digital photography because I do it also. They both do great things, but I have a preference for film.
Austin: So, Adriana, what are some of your processes like?
Adriana: Well, in this body of work, I started out with some photographic images, and I manipulated them a little bit in Photoshop. Textured areas started out as a print of some cliffs on the beach in San Diego. I became very interested in those shapes. I started chopping them up, changing them, and then I would print all different colors on different textures of paper, which is done using a process called Image-On. I thought about some of the shapes that are found in coastal environments, and just exaggerated them, played with texture, experimented. I really feel like the results of the Image-On, the photographic elements, add more information to the idea of the piece. Without them I think these would be really flat – it adds a dimension, I think.
After I print, I lay all the pieces out on a table, and start chopping them up with an X-ACTO or scissors or just by tearing the paper in ways so that you get sort of frayed edges, especially with really textured paper. I would print on both sides, and just play and see what kind of information I could get, and not really take anything too…nothing was too permanent, you know? Like, it’s okay to tear this up and make it something else. I would print these little pieces and think they were so pretty, and then go, “Oh, this doesn’t fit this shape.” So I’d just tear it in half and go with it. Nothing was fragile. I just print and print and print and start bringing pieces together and cutting them and making these shapes. I love playing with color and experimenting with color. That’s one of my biggest things.
The very end process is a process called chine-collé, which is just to glue things together – I use a little bit of adhesive in an airbrush gun to spray the backs of the pieces and then run them through the press so they all flatten out together. I would also mask things out – I might take purple paper and lay down fibrous paper on top of it and then lay down a plate of another color on top of that. So basically, that fibrous paper would block some of the color on the plate and let the purple show through and create a really sweet texture. Sometimes color would show through because the back of the paper was also printed. It’s like cutting and pasting in a really literal form.
The blue prints are cyanotypes I did in Florence, Italy. I think I was still interested in using organic shapes, but with a little more information with the architecture – I’d never done that before. I mean, in Florence, you can’t help but be influenced by the architecture. It’s all over the place, it’s so old, and it’s so beautiful that you can’t help it.
Austin: Is that the only way Florence affected your work?
Adriana: I met some really great people out there that I’m friends with still. I got the chance to work at the school where I was studying, and help out in the print studio as a print studio tech. My experience there was really surreal. A lot of that, though, was trying to experiment with processes I already knew, and trying to make it work there. For instance, some of these processes are really technical and things have to be a certain way. Artists get turned off because there are just too many technicalities. That became an issue when I was in Florence – I tried to do Image-On and eventually realized I was running out of time and couldn’t get the negatives to work correctly.
But while I was there I was taking an alternative photography class with Michael McCarthy, who’s a teacher in Paris. He was teaching us cyanotype, and I was like, “Let’s play. Let’s see what I can do.” So I used similar negatives to what I was already using, and started trying cyanotypes and was really happy with the results. I started dying them with tea, coffee, and approaching them in the same way I would some of my prints. I don’t like to keep anything too sacred – I want to be able to beat it up a little bit and not feel too bad about it. For me, if I hold back on one decision – just on changing one little thing – I’m not going to know what the results could be, what could happen with it. I like to take that jump, and see what could happen with it. That’s what happened with these cyanotype pieces: I just took risks in cutting up the negatives, and throwing down different materials, and seeing what would happen. It ended up being really cool.
Austin: Are you like that at all, Barbara? In terms of nothing being sacred.
Barbara: No, I’m totally the opposite. All my work is sacred to me. I’ve kept all my work since college. Adriana’s like, “I think I’m gonna give this away to someone,” and I’m always like, “Are you sure?” When I produce a piece I’m really happy with, it’s like it’s my baby. I want to hold it.
Adriana: She’s more sentimental.
Barbara: I’m very sentimental. We did a show about a month ago where we sent our work off to Texas and I didn’t get to spend much time with my finished work. It was pretty much like we finished it and then we shipped it. I like to spend time with it, get to know it, and study it, I guess. I like to go back and look at my work. It influences me.
Adriana: And that’s something you teach me often – to keep things around a little longer. You’ve definitely influenced me on that.
Austin: I find it interesting that you play off of each others’ differences so much in the studio. In terms of subject matter, do you tend to gravitate toward similar or dissimilar things?
Barbara: I think we’re both really influenced by New Mexico. I did most of my college work on San Antonio architecture, so I was very influenced by that downtown, all the old buildings, and old spaces, the Alamo. I mean, I know Adriana’s influenced by the landscape, so we both work with a lot of landscape in different ways. We’re influenced by the colors here, of course. I love artists that have come here. I’m interested in the history of New Mexico and the people and so that kind of drives my photography as well – the history and a lot of the architecture. I’m interested in adobe architecture, the colors of it and stuff like that. I guess I’m more literal, though.
Adriana: I think that my ideas are definitely a little more abstract. I’ll take an idea of a landscape, like a shape I saw of a mountainside or something and just play with it – push it in a way that kind of takes it from being cliché New Mexico landscape art. I’d really like to work larger, so that’s the goal, to work larger. Sometimes my work is a surprise because I don’t always plan everything out. Barbara plans a lot of stuff out. I just start working with materials and images and then the content starts to build. So there’s kind of an idea of an influence – a space or a place or a memory – but it starts to build up as I start making the actual prints and cutting things out and putting them together.
Barbara: I will see how I want my finished product to look in my mind – I can see it and I work toward getting that. And Adriana kind of works as she goes. But I think we do compliment each other in that way.
Austin: How else do you make those differences work for you in the studio – especially while making separate art?
Barbara: I ask a lot of advice from her and she asks advice from me and I guess we kind of play off each other like that, right?
Adriana: Yeah, I think the big thing is that we’re honest with each other. It’s true criticism, rather than someone coming in, a friend or whatever, saying, “Oh, it’s pretty! It’s nice! That’s great, too!” Working with Barb is good because she’s honest with me. She’ll say, “I don’t know, maybe you should think about this,” or, “That’s not really working.” And I’ll ask her why and she’ll tell me and we’ll talk about why and talk it out before we actually visually work it out sometimes.
Austin: I love that you each use the differences between you to fuel your creative endeavors – it’s really what sharing a studio is all about. But now, let’s finish with something a little lighter: if you could each spend a whole day with another artist while they worked, who would you choose and why?
Barbara: I’ve always been influenced by Berenice Abbott. She was a photographer in the 40’s – she did a lot of architectural photography in New York City. She’s not alive anymore, but I think I’m influenced a lot by female artists and she’s definitely my number one.
Berenice was tough. She was in a man’s world back then, doing a job that most would consider a man’s job, documenting architecture. She’d carry around her big 8×10 camera, and those things are heavy, they weigh 60 pounds. But she’d go out there and do it. She was big with the WPA and all that, so I’ve really been influenced by her.
I’d just want to like spend one day with her taking pictures and seeing how she looked at things. I think women look at architecture differently than men do, and that’s kind of a strange thing to me. I want to see how she photographed and what she thought about, what her methods were, go through a day with her and see how she did it.
Adriana: My answer is Helen Frankenthaler, an abstract-expressionist painter from the 50’s and 60’s. When people were becoming interested in abstract painting, she was one of the few women coming out in that male-dominated field. I mean, she was hanging out with Jackson Pollock and Clement Greenberg.
She fascinates me because she would work on a painting for years. I like to think about that because I feel like as creative people, we’re forced to finish something, to commoditize our work, and I think that has a lot to do with our culture. We’re always in a hurry to finish something to start something else, not appreciating the process. She would go back to a piece and edit it, think about it and edit it, and she would take years. I love the idea of that. Kind of like playing, you know, without feeling that it has to be a solid piece immediately.
Maybe if she was doing a class or something, I would love to be in that class and watch her techniques. Honestly, I’d just like to sit there and talk to her, you know? Maybe get a critique from her. That would be frightening, but it would be such a special opportunity. I don’t think our work is at all similar, but she also plays with landscape. She became a printmaker, and did a lot of printmaking later on in her life, and her prints are just amazing – she was really good with color.
She also said, “A really good picture looks as if it happened at once.” I like that idea, that art should look like it happened all at once even though you’ve been working on it forever.
Adriana Barrios was born and raised in Southern California and currently resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She attended The University of Texas at San Antonio receiving a BFA in Fine Art with an emphasis in Printmaking. She studied abroad at Santa Reparata International School of Art in Florence, Italy and worked as a head printmaker for the Ricardo Romo Presidents Project for The University of Texas at San Antonio. From 2007-2011 she was the visual art coordinator at Justiceworks studio in San Antonio, Texas. More of her work can be found at http://adrianabarrios.weebly.com/
Barbara Justice was born in 1975 and raised in Southern New Mexico and West Texas. She studied at the University of Texas at San Antonio where she earned a BFA in Fine Art with an emphasis in Photography. During 2007 in San Antonio, she started the alternative gallery space Justiceworks Studio to exhibit the works of established and emerging artists from Texas and surrounding areas. As of 2013, Barbara Justice relocated to Santa Fe, New Mexico with her partner Adriana. Barbara uses many forms of photography to create her work, including Polaroid, Holga, and vintage film cameras. Recently she has been experimenting with cyanotype printing, gum bichromate printing, and screen printing. More of her work can be found at www.justicephoto.weebly.com