drawing on the run – Tom Barnes
“The last of the great gaucho painters,” he likes to call himself. His watercolor and ink drawing, Sexy Legs and Boots will be auctioned at Out on a Whim #4 November 3.*
At some point in the near future, he’ll come to Whim W’Him rehearsal to sketch.
I hope to be there!
There is an interesting tension in Tom Barnes, between his midwestern, Lutheran background and the free-wheeling, cussin’, hard-drinking lover of night life that I met at Linda’s late Sunday morning. He’s a canny raconteur, an ornery rebel; he’s also has a grizzled charm and a real passion for his work. And he is never one to hold back. Whether telling stories about “back in the day” when he stirred up all kinds of trouble; describing with earnest reverence the influence of his mentor, Richard Caemmerer who introduced him to both the appreciation and practice of art; reminiscing about “my good friend and only muse, Kina“; or reflecting on his art, Tom lives/talks/works with tremendous gusto. His favorite quote is from the late German painter, Sigmar Polke. “There is nothing I can say about my pictures. I paint and that is far from easy, and that is all I can do.”
A good while back, Tom also did a lot of traveling, in Latin America, Asia and all around the US. His constant companion was an 8 x 8 inch sketchbook, in which he drew, people mostly. These small watercolors use a brilliant, and to me very appealing, palette. They burst with movement, form and spirited line.
At various other points in his career, Tom attended Banff Center of Fine Arts on scholarship, lived in New York City while working at PS 122, and got a BFA in performing arts, theater and painting from Evergreen College, ranging widely into other styles and media. In the last three years, though, he has returned to this format, which he calls Drawing on the Run.
A sketchbook is unobtrusive. Tom sits, in a tavern or coffeeshop, a burlesque show or park and draws with a Uniball pen (black, blue or red). Later he completes his pictures by painting on the sketch with watercolors. The initial drawings “aren’t studies for anything. What they are is what they are—so old fashioned.” He ends up with a kind of collage.
A figure might have one person’s face, another’s body or stance. But he captures life live. “It’s a little bit,” he says, “like being a chronicler.” A troubador in pen and paint.
He is amused and intrigued that burlesque, which was something like a dirty word in the feminist Northwest for a long time, is now a hot commodity. Why does it appeal to him? “What I like most is to drink, draw, and look at sexy people,” he says. Also, it’s about fashion he adds, and dance. “I like clothes and love dance. My whole life.” As a customer service rep or in some other capacity, “I’ve been in the theater almost every day.”
“Although,” as Tom remarks, “I like to think of myself as a free thinker and open minded, when it comes to my work, I have all these rules.”
Never use photos. For him, this “feels like cheating.”
Draw when I’m excited by what I see. Like those of Toulouse Lautrec, Tom’s subjects aren’t to be observed in isolation, but embedded in a context, surrounded by color and light, sound and smell, part of a world. He tries to render what it is that excites him, seeming to go by the opposite rule from “reflection in tranquility.” After the fact, back home, he knows there are things that might be done to make a picture “better.”
But at bottom, what is most important for him is to Stay true to the line.
*For tickets to Out On A Whim #4, go to http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/280828 – Secret Whimmer Password: Coquette
About the Author Victoria Farr Brown
I am a writer, mostly of fiction, based in Seattle, and a long-time lover of dance.
Behind the Scenes focuses on WhimW’Him—Olivier Wever’s dance company, formed in 2009 and now affiliated with Intiman Theatre—its projects, artists, and whatever ideas, whimsical or otherwise, occur to me in the course of watching the company grow.