Field of view

A day in the life of Brian Barlow, BA '18, MA '19

Photos by Patrick Dodson '12

Brian Barlow ’18, MA ’19 thinks it is fitting that he works in a remodeled schoolhouse turned art studio: It’s an apt metaphor for his continual knowledge seeking and is, perhaps, a perfect homage to the university professor and art museum director who inspired and helped him start his career. As the assistant studio manager for prominent contemporary artist and MacArthur Fellow Jeffrey Gibson, Barlow helps direct the day-to-day operations that keep the studio running smoothly:  managing an active schedule;  coordinating with galleries and museums worldwide; photographing pieces in the collection; handling logistics for large-scale art; and working one-on-one with Gibson to plan and produce epic events and exhibitions around the globe. This is a day in the life of Assistant Studio Manager Brian Barlow.

Coordinating

I work in a sun-filled former elementary school gym and my desk looks out on beautiful paintings in process. Each morning, I review the emails that have come in prepare myself for the meetings ahead.

During my time on campus, I always noticed the hydrangeas outside of the Art Department. Since then, hydrangeas have been my favorite flower and a constant reminder of my time at UAlbany.

Test Prints

In school, my favorite piece of equipment was the large format printer used in the final step of turning an image into an object. Not having access to a large format printer after graduation was hard. Luckily it wasn’t long until I had one within reach of my desk again.

Reviewing

Jeffrey has recently incorporated printed media into his work. We discuss options, quality of the materials and how the prints will present in the artwork.

Documenting

To assist Jeffrey and the production team, I document artworks during every step of their creation which helps Jeffrey to make formal decisions with minimal friction and allows those decisions to be communicated.

This figure has been in production since I first began at the studio two years ago. It is life-sized and adorned with glass beads, bone beads, and fringe. The piece is constructed with a steel armature and it will weigh close to 250 pounds when complete. It will be featured in an upcoming show titled The Body Electric at SITE Santa Fe in New Mexico.

A hallway of shipping containers.Shipping

To date, Jeffrey has created close to 1000 artworks during his career. I create profiles on each piece and record information regarding materials, exhibition history, dimensions, and loans. Each of these crates holds an artwork that has returned to the studio after an exhibition. The location of each crate is cataloged and a condition report is completed. The pieces are then stored until its next public viewing.

Brian and Jeffrey in the studio next to a table covered in artwork.

Jeffrey has become a friend as well as a boss. Before starting at the studio I was told “There is only one Jeffrey.”  He brings his trademark kindness and humor to every situation, no matter the context. Early on, I commuted long distances every day. During that time, he paid for my fuel to get to work. It’s an honor to have a  working relationship and familiarity with an artist working at his level.

Brian organizes artwork on a peg board wall.Updating Layout

Since starting at the studio, we have created upwards of a hundred new works. As pieces make their way through the studio, production documents must be updated and decisions need to be communicated efficiently.

The schedule printed on two pieces of paper.Scheduling

Each year brings new opportunities and creative challenges: We have an immersive installation at Toronto MOCA, a survey at SITE Santa Fe, a video shoot in the mountains of Aspen, the inaugural exhibition of the new ICA San Francisco, an installation at the Portland Art Museum, and an installation in the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Australia. I am in contact with each institution to make sure goals are being met and Jeffrey’s vision is realized.

Brian talks to an artist. The artist is laughing and standing behind a table covered in art supplies.

What I enjoyed most about my education was the ability to discuss color, process, and practice. One of the many joys of this job is the ability to talk about art with artists and share our passions and pursuits.

Brian holds a bubble wrap covered rectangle and leans it against a wall.Archiving

This is an early piece of Jeffrey’s from 2004. It was recently exhibited at the Thomas Cole House in Catskill, NY. It features references to handcraft that would later become a prominent feature of his artwork. It is rare to see so much of an artist’s early career outside of a retrospective.

Organizing

Jeffrey purchased this 1914 post card a few years ago which depicts the French military making contact with indigenous people. An enlarged print of this post card made its way into a recent painting titled “What We Want What We Need.” It is one of my responsibilities to organize Jeffrey’s collection of protest media, vintage beaded accessories, pin back buttons, broaches, and whimsies.

A hand holding a whimsey. A hand beaded purse.

This is an example of a whimsey, a hand beaded purse made around the 1920s. It was designed to appeal to Victorian aesthetics but was created with traditional indigenous craft practices. The hybridity of styles has been a common thread in Jeffrey’s work throughout his career.

Brian pointing to a canvas with green tape and paint.

The work in the studio is made with the highest specificity. Every mark is measured and consistent. The time and dedication of Jeffrey and the production team is present in every work. Every line is sharp, every color sings, and details invisible to others are always noticed.

A multi colored beaded panel.

These are glass bead panels produced for a recent series of quilt block paintings featured in a exhibition with Kavi Gupta Gallery in Chicago. Every panel is created one bead at a time and requires about 30 hours of work. The panels weigh slightly under 10 pounds and have dense complexity that can only be appreciated in person.

Colorful beaded leaves.

This is a beaded applique made in the image of a leaf that was found on the ground outside of the studio. Colors are altered and exaggerated, creating something both familiar and unique. These will soon be affixed to one of four large-scale beaded whimsies. Each whimsey is six feet tall and will make its way to Australia at the end of the summer.