Wilford Barrington draws people as we know them, which means he draws them not with one face but with many, eyes all over the place, fluid and alive with movement. We talked to Wilford about who these people are, why he draws them like this, and the place of art on the internet.
Your portraits depict movement, and often contain several faces. Why is this?
We never see the people we come to know in life from a single perspective. Nobody is static. We are strange and formless creatures that are mostly water and are constantly in motion, ever-changing throughout time and space. Just as we think we completely understand someone, they show us something new that we could not have foreseen. This is why I strive to reveal the layers and dimensions of a person in my drawings. By displaying a collection of attitudes within a single portrait I invite the viewer to interpret or uncover truths about the people I draw that may not be so easily summed up in words.
Who are the people you draw? How do you know them, and how does that affect the drawing?
My portraits function as a visual record of a conversation that takes place during the portrait sitting. In this way they are a kind of interview. The more the sitters are willing to invest, the better the portraits turn out. This is why most often the people I invite to sit for me are close friends or acquaintances that I trust and have established a rapport with. Most often appearances are deceiving which is why I am most interested in who a person is and what they do than if they have an interesting nose. That being said, I still find great enjoyment in drawing an interesting nose.
A recent portrait I did of the famous Canadian playwright Brad Fraser is an example of a sitter whom I had not met prior to the portrait sitting. My esteemed colleague Noam Gonick (Filmmaker) suggested that I draw him shortly after I moved to Toronto. I was excited to meet Brad because of his prodigic rise to fame and notorious reputation. The interview yielded strong results and I would like to draw more people like Brad in the future.
I have done commission work in the past where I have not met the person before, had not heard of them and therefore had no idea what I was getting myself into. At the time I badly needed money, which as chief motivation can be the fastest way to make false work. I arrived at this lavish and badly decorated penthouse to draw an ancient retired couple. For the first few hours I felt like jumping off the roof. The experience made me feel as though I was a circus seal balancing a ball on my nose while trying to sell them an automobile at the same time. I must have a rapport and genuine interest in the people who commission me so as to avoid such a ridiculous circumstance in the future.
As long as the sitters are interesting, show up on time and commit to the drawing process I am usually pleased with the outcome.
Who or what are your influences?
I have been influenced by pictorial conventions of the past, more so than by any single artist. At present the Chuck Jones cartoon “The Dover Boys at Pimento University” is a great source of inspiration for me. It was made as a formal experiment in the use of animation smearing. Smearing is used in animations to depict motion that is faster than the frame rate of the picture. If you stop a single smeared frame it often resembles an elongated stretched form. This is the closest two-dimensional artwork has come to successfully depicting the nature of movement through space. Smearing is a much more effective pictorial device for depicting motion than futurism, which merely palimpsets a number of points of motion at once and can look clunky.
What are your views on the place of art on the internet? How important is your web presence?
Most artists feel putting their work on the internet somehow devalues their images or decreases the demand for printed media. I have a feeling that in fact it is the opposite, and that the more people that are able to view the work, the greater the demand. I also look at an artist like Terrance Koh, and understand that a large volume of web content holds surfers attention for longer periods of time thereby making a stronger impression in the viewers memory.
What’s next for you?
I would like to work with magazine publications as an alternative to photographic portraits for interviews and continue to develop my work into new forms of media. I would like to explore animation, installation and sculpture as I earn the means to do so.