“I am not totally comfortable calling myself an artist even now, after 30 years of being involved in the arts. I paint. That is my voice. It is how I make connections. If someone chooses to call what I do, art, then my voice has been heard…”

Sharon Barfoot is a totally cool artist who lives in Ontario, Canada.  I love her work www.sharonbarfoot.com and I had a great chat with her about art and life.  Her thoughts and words come from such a peaceful, well-informed place.  Read on and see what I mean … 

MICHAEL: Hi Sharon, Your abstracts are very cool. They're very natural and elegant. It looks like you're inspired mostly by nature. Is that true?

SHARON: Thank you for your comment and invitation to chat with you. Am I inspired by nature? That implies a separation to me. We often forget that we ARE nature. There is no separation. However, there exists a diverse perception of the human body/soul from that of a flower. We perceive ourselves to be different and separate. I like to think of my work as having a dialog with the physical world of which I am a part. So, in a sense, I am having a dialog with myself and all that exists at the same time. My paintings are my attempt to express a personal interpretation of beauty and diversity of hidden worlds beyond the familiar.

MICHAEL: I see what looks like layering and fading in the work. Is this how you attempt to show other worlds?

SHARON: Exactly. I do build up many layers in an attempt to show the passage of time. We can never see things as they really are. What we see in this moment changes in the blink of an eye. We cannot escape the prisons of our own mind, nor of the hard-wired processes of that mind, nor of our inherently limited angle of vision (perspective) at any given moment. We simply cannot see something from every perspective at once – it is not possible. So, for instance, when I am trying to paint the landscape that has inspired me at this moment, I have to attempt to paint it, “before the wind, during the wind, and after the wind,” because that blade of grass has gone through all those stages in a nanosecond of linear time. At the same time, I am trying to indicate my emotional attachment to the moment. My solution is to paint in layers; to make sections foggy and show it in flux as much as possible within the two dimensions in which I work.

MICHAEL: What's your routine like? Do you paint everyday? Do you need to get inspired first?

SHARON: My daily routine is quite simple and uncomplicated. As soon as I rise, I meditate for forty-five minutes to one hour. I like quiet. I know it may sound trite, but I think I was born inspired. My mind seems to be over stimulated by my environment. The effort, for me, is taming my mind so that I can focus on the work at hand. If I am doing a series, for instance, I am already thinking of where I want to go for the next series and the next. My current work seems to seed future work. I will work on two or three paintings at the same time. My best work seems to come about when I do not have time to think. It is for this reason that I work fast, finishing a painting in one or two days. I don’t usually begin to paint until around 10 am and then stop around 1:00. I begin my afternoon making notes to reference for future work. Then I will work again in the late afternoon until early evening. I spend my evenings perusing books of interest to me. Always I have a note book close by.

MICHAEL: You say you were born inspired. Does that mean you were also born an artist? What are you earliest memories relating to art?

SHARON: I don’t necessarily believe that I was born an artist. I was born with a vivid imagination and I have always been very curious. I believe those qualities define someone who has an affinity towards fine art, music, or writing. I certainly did not have a natural ability to draw. That was a skill that took much practice to learn … and consistent practice.  It’s something I still do regularly. My earliest memories are of colour. I had recurrent dreams that involved a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes. Those dreams occurred before the age of five. I didn’t start to paint until my early teens. I am not totally comfortable calling myself an artist even now, after 30 years of being involved in the arts. I paint. That is my voice. It is how I make connections. If someone chooses to call what I do, art, then my voice has been heard.

MICHAEL: When people look at your work, do you want them to get YOUR message or is it okay for them develop their own interpretation?

SHARON: I think of my painting as a visual storytelling. When I approach the empty canvas, I am never sure what that story will be. I just witness the events as they unfold moment by moment as I make the white go away. It is only when the painting is complete that I view it with separate eyes and mind, that I can see the story. If a viewer connects in some way with a painting, then I have provided the fuel that ignites a memory or emotion in them. It becomes their story at that moment. The mystery lies in the connection.

MICHAEL: Wow, that’s great to hear.  I love the way you put that.

SHARON: I will tell you a story about one of my early exhibits. I had done a series of paintings where I was exploring texture and colour. One particular painting was about blue and green and the simple beauty of blue when it dances on the canvas with green. A viewer asked me what the painting meant. My answer was, “It’s blue and green.” This, of course, was far too simple an answer for her. I guess I was supposed to have some profound explanation that met with her expectations. So I asked her what SHE thought it meant. She had a very elaborate interpretation. I smiled and commented on how honored I was that such a patron had commented on my work. I was truly honored even though her interpretation was in no way close to my intention. What mattered was the connection. And, in this case the connection was quite deep and emotional. To me, it was “blue and green.” At that moment in time, the simplicity of blue and green was enough.

MICHAEL: You know, It's almost as if people have been brainwashed into thinking that they're not bright enough or worthy enough to have their own personal, simple appreciation of art. It makes the job of the artist SO much more difficult.

SHARON: A good piece of art will produce a worthwhile experience in the observer. That is if the observer takes time to actually look at the piece and try to understand it from their own perspective. I have never really thought about an audience being brainwashed. I suppose in some ways we are since we are heavily influenced by those agents, gallery owners and artists who occupy the power spots in the art world. They tell us what is “good.” Then elite patrons follow suit by spending huge amounts of money purchasing art for mostly economical reasons. That doesn’t make it good art. Perhaps it only makes a case for good marketing. Hopefully, there are patrons who are willing to express their own opinions as to whether or not a work of art is noteworthy.

MICHAEL: I truly wish this will become the case for everyone.  It’s why I do what I do!

SHARON: From an artist’s point of view, I know that not all art will create a worthwhile experience in everyone. I try to communicate attitudes, ideas and emotions that are relevant to my own unique cultural experience. I don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about the difficulties I encounter as an artist. I am too busy ‘showing up’ at the easel daily. I try to expand on earlier ideas and present a new way of understanding certain ideas that interest me. I make the assumption that those who are interested in my work, approach it from an educated perspective. I honor their ‘worth’ by respecting their opinions and welcoming their comments—positive or negative. And, in the end, I hope that my work is instrumental in generating a dialogue. So, you see, my job is quite simple. It is to paint. After that, it is out of my hands.

MICHAEL: I was just looking at your work again and it's really stunning. It's abstract and organic. It's as if you're saying over and over again that life and humanity are always emerging from unclear, uncertain things.

SHARON: Perhaps, if I were to label my work, I would say it had many organic elements to it. What we see with our limited senses does not tell us what is real. Our lives consist of two realities. There is the natural, which is what we see and sense. Then, there is the spiritual which is much deeper and that is where the unclear and uncertain comes in to the work. With each painting, I attempt to take raw material of physical existence, rearrange it into shape, line and colour to intensify it. I keep working the painting and concentrating the experience to a point of completion. That is, a point of my human awareness of completion, that will make the viewer aware of the sheer ‘being-ness’ of things. Life is not one-dimensional. It is open to the interplay of what is ‘other’ and that is something that cannot be fully put into words or paintings. An artist can only attempt to do so.

MICHAEL: Sharon, you are clearly a highly-evolved individual.  It really shows in your work and the natural forms.

SHARON: There are moments when you are in nature when you are fully present and aware; moments when you feel fully-connected. These moments are transitory and can be quite transformational. The only thing that is certain in this life is that very moment. We are continuously emerging in to the next moment. So too, is a painting. It begins with stroke of the brush and continues to emerge toward completion and all the time fueled by that moment in time in which you were inspired by nature.

MICHAEL: There’s no doubt that you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about life and your work. Do you come from a family of philosophers and artists?

SHARON: I spend a great deal of time reading and I did study philosophy in University. It probably stems from my insatiable sense of curiosity. I want to know how things work. Quantum physics, resonance, spirituality and Buddhism are some of my favorite subjects in my library. By osmosis, I guess that overflows into my work. I am also a very tactile person, so I like heavy textures. My course of study at University was textiles and sculpture. Recently, I have started to work with clay. My parents were blue-collar workers. My father was an accomplished carpenter and my mother was always involved in various crafts. Neither of them had much interest in fine arts. I do think that my early involvement with writing and painting grew out of depression. My attention was diverted and by painting or weaving, I quickly was able to overcome those periods of depression. Luckily, I don’t get into that state often at this stage of my life. I am more at peace.

Check out Sharon’s cool work at her website, www.sharonbarfoot.com.