The world according to Barek

It’s an engaging and mystical world. One that is naive and charming, whimsical yet poignant. 

This much-loved Brisbane artist has a large fan base here in Melbourne and a visit from him is a much anticipated street treat. It seems we can’t get enough of him!

About 10 years ago, Barek embarked on a lifestyle change deciding to make a living from his art. A prolific artist, his contribution to the street is primarily paste-ups.

Last year I spoke to him on the eve of his third and, what turned out to be, a very successful exhibition at Off the Kerb Gallery in Collingwood. It was a new direction for him – with paintings, drawings and sculptures inspired by Japanese folklore including monsters and ghost stories, tree spirits and water gods.

“My intention is to educate people making them appreciate a different culture,”  he said.

The chameleon was a reoccurring image. Perhaps this was a metaphor for the artist?

Barek’s surfaces are manifold. He enhances wallpaper offcuts and magazines and knitting books with his images.

“Part of my experience when I come to Melbourne is a pilgrimage to Hosier Lane. The Brisbane scene is not like the Melbourne one. Street art isn’t condoned and there are very few places to get one’s work up! However, I find that because of their size and placement knee level or below, they tend to survive from visit to visit. I also save my best work for these trips south.”

His pieces are one-offs – originals, not photocopies.

“It’s art that’s actually made for the street, with every piece being hand-drawn. Originality tends to get lost in a photocopy. I love the drawing process and it’s something I’m committed to doing every day – to perfect my craft. I enjoy making stuff and would be depriving myself of this pleasure if it was to become mass-produced,” he said.

“Painting is such a liberating experience for me. My foray onto the street has been with small steps. Growing from stickers but with a move, because of size limitations, to wheat pastes. Originally I didn’t put a name to the work. It was just something I did. But it began to be noticed, with people ‘faving’ it on Flickr and this encouraged me to keep going.”

Barek’s work is original and very personal. “I never imagined that anyone would buy it! I feel very blessed that they do and with everything that has happened to me, I’m amazed by the journey it has taken me on.”

“My popularity has had a momentum of its own. It’s something that I innocently blundered into it. I’ve seen other artists who’ve been painting for a lot longer, still struggling for recognition. So I feel very lucky with my success.”

“It has taken me by surprise. I try only to make art that I like. And, although I appreciate photo-realism, I’ve come to realise that with my work, it’s my vision, this childish naivety, that people are interested in.”

“I don’t have any outside influences and my work is generated from my imagination. It was quite a turning point when I realised that people wanted my version of the world and not how it really is!”

“I don’t feel the need to be famous but just to make enough money that enables me to survive and keep on painting. This will be enough to make me happy.”

Fast forward to Barek’s forthcoming, and fourth, Melbourne exhibition. I revisited him for an update.

For his World of his Own exhibition he has chosen to slow down, technique-wise. Loosely based on a tribal theme, the works have crisp finishes with less “drippy” effects. For some pieces he has chosen to combine realism with his trademark simplistic style.

He has been experimenting with acrylics, combined with ink and paper cut-outs to create an 3D effect and he uses double glazing to create shadows. Some are on timber, others on canvas.

”My aim is introduce something different and original into each exhibition. I know what works and what’s popular,” he said.

Once accused of living in his own world, he has turned this into a positive and created a “Barek” world. Art has given Barek a voice. Long may he be vocal!

World of His Own is showing at Off The Kerb Gallery in Collingwood from October 21 October until November 3.

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