The Greensburg community can be proud of the caliber of art that will be showcased by two of the city’s own artists, Mark and Dorion Barill, father and son. Visitors to the exhibit will be treated to “Rustbelt Romanticism,” a rich retrospective of their prominent works of art. The pop-up exhibits at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art are dedicated to recognizing the cultural contributions of our local artists and honoring and celebrating their talents and achievements.
Mark is the art director for Phil Fraley Productions, Inc. (www.philfraleyproductions.com.) He also has had extensive experience as a scenic artist for film and television, notably The John Adams Story, Wonderboys, and The West Wing. Mark received formal art training at the California College of the Arts in Oakland, California, and West Virginia University in Morgantown. The artist’s paintings have been exhibited nationally and can often be seen at the DV8 Expresso Bar & Gallery in Greensburg, which is owned and operated by his wife Terrie.
Dorion Barill received formal arts and design education at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. He has directed several animation and film projects, including Allegory of the Lizards (2012), Affresco Vivente (2009) and The Shadow (2006).
Both my father and I are intrigued by those boundaries
between worlds we see and the hidden world of memory and invention.
Our works lie along the division between spaces past and dreamt.
Q Mark: Why Rustbelt Romanticism?
A: Romanticism was an eighteenth century art movement that emphasized strong emotional responses, especially in relation to nature. “Rustbelt Romanticism” is basically about the aesthetics of decay, but it is also about growth . . . about what sprouts and thrives in the cracks of the concrete. When I was a kid, old factories and abandoned buildings were our playgrounds—places to explore and have adventures. When I grew older, I worked in a glass factory where I developed a different perspective on that type of environment. About the time I started college, the factories started shutting down all over the area, and I saw its effect on the region in which I grew up. So, I have a very complex emotional response for what remains of our industrial past. I think that’s a pretty common experience in this area. In fact, I see a lot of art being produced that focuses on that type of imagery. Anyway, we think the title is apt for the exhibit, given the type of imagery that shows up in our work.
Q. Dorion: While your father’s work deals with environments closer to home, yours seems to be influenced by travels to more far-flung regions of the globe. What was the calling to travel to such remote and exotic places?
A. A lot of my work begins with drawing from observation – outdoors, underground, beautiful places, abandoned places, museums – landscapes, in a vague sense of the word. Whenever you draw from observation, you build a unique relationship with the space because the process is so complex and challenging. You might stand there for hours imitating a mirror, with an academic curiosity of form and light. But the real discoveries come with the distortions – the intruding fictions – and you realize there is more to a space than what is seen. My work has taken me to many interesting and remote places because it’s a way of cultivating fictions.
Q. Dorion: So you have some of the explorer in you?
A. Well, most recently my partner, Christina, and I were working on an animation in Cappadocia, central Turkey. The scenery is otherworldly, a dreamscape of volcanic valleys and labyrinths of bizarre rock formations. Whole cities and painted monasteries have been carved out of the cliffs and towers of tuff. There are also underground “cities” that delve hundreds of feet below the surface and extend for miles into the desert. We were exploring one of these cities, navigating some of the more rugged tunnels, about fourteen stories down. We had to creep past one of the massive stone wheels that the ancient defenders would roll into place to seal off passageways. There wasn’t much space to slip through, and we were a little apprehensive of being crushed or trapped. But it led to a wild and perhaps forgotten zone.
There were real hazards – endless ventilation shafts, crumbling support structures. And as we proceeded, the excavations became more erratic: stairs leading into the ceiling, doorways leading to rooms in the floor . . . as if the halls had been twisted.
We came to an expansive space that glistened with dew and overlooked a precarious tangle of masonry leading deeper into the city. We wanted to leave. But at the far end of that room – opposite the lower level of decayed stonework – I saw something stretched across the floor. It stood out so vividly, so pale. Surrounding it, there was evidence of a cave-in. Piled boulders and earth seemed to be blocking the entrance to another corridor. I remember approaching it and realizing what it was: a pale skin stretched over the skeleton of a horse. A horse! Fourteen stories underground!
These spaces – these isolated spaces – exist on the boundary between the world we see and a hidden world. To find these spaces—to explore them—is a way of drawing the work out of that hidden world . . . a way to develop narratives and a means of expanding the visual vocabulary.
Q. Mark: What type of art do you make?
A. I’m a painter and sculptor. My work has changed quite a bit over the years, but there are certain threads that run throughout my work; stylistically they are realistic, and there is usually a narrative involved . . . and that narrative is often evocative of time.
Q. What works will be included in the exhibit at the museum? What is the theme?
A. There is no real theme, but we have common lines of inquiry. The show will be very diverse. I think what this show is really about is evolution and change; it is about the evolution of two artists—a father and son—over the course of time. It is also about how being witness to my evolution influenced Dorion in his early years as he was developing as an artist, and how Dorion has influenced me.
Q. Dorion: How would you best describe what visitors can expect to see at the upcoming showing at the museum?
A. My father and I are both intrigued by those boundaries between worlds we see, and the hidden world of memory...and invention. Our work lies along the division, with spaces past and dreamt. Certainly, we’ve been drawn to some of the same spaces – a particular bridge, an old factory, a forest. It’ll be interesting to see how that reflects in the work, to consider what concepts we draw from these spaces. Are they similar? Do they clash? A conversation develops between the pieces, at times in harmony, in other times at odds.
Q. Mark: What was a big influence on your painting?
A. There have been many. When I was a child, I really knew nothing about art. Rather, I grew up on a steady diet of comic books and pulp novels. When I entered college, this whole new world opened up to me. Some of the artists that I emulated in my earlier career were Robert Longo, Ed Kienholtz, Odd Nerdrum and, of course, the old masters played a huge role in my development. But I did not have access to much of their actual work, and that is the key to understanding. Currently I am interested in the Hudson River School of Art, I have learned a great deal about landscape painting by studying their work, but I don’t think any of my paintings closely resembles that style or any other style. You have to develop your own voice.
Q: Dorion: Who have you studied with whom you share a sense of purpose?
A. When I was studying in Rome, Piranesi became a hero of mine. He was an eighteenth century Venetian printmaker, though he studied as an architect. He is best known for his Carceri d’Invenzione, a series of etchings inspired by the labyrinthine dungeons of the Eternal City. He produced thousands of plates in his lifetime, romantically emphasizing the monumentality of Roman architecture. He also produced numerous maps, which were a fascinating reference while I was trespassing all over subterranean Rome.
Q. Mark: What is inspiring you now?
A. I’m interested in natural history, earth science, our experience of time, how we interact with our environment—these are things that I’ve always found fascinating. The big question for me is: How do I represent concepts associated with these subjects in a meaningful way? I’ve spent most of my career working with natural history museums, and that continues to be a constant source of inspiration.
Q. How has Dorion influenced your work?
A. Our entire family is very creative. My wife, Terrie, is an artist and operator of our family business, DV8 Espresso Bar & Gallery. My youngest son, Sean, is a musician with an incredible amount of potential. At the dinner table we discuss painters like other families discuss football players. Dorion grew up in a very different environment than I did, and it shows. As well as being very talented he is committed and hard working. The amount of energy, focus, and commitment he puts into his work is inspiring. His critiques of my work have always cut straight to the weak points of any piece that I happen to be working on. He has a passion for art history and philosophy that parallels some of my own interests, although he is much more studious; it leads to some very interesting discussions. I think his biggest influence on me is that he does not allow me to become lazy.
Q. Dorion: How much of an influence has your father had on your art?
A. I grew up in a household where art-making was a way of life. I’ve been getting art history lessons since I was old enough to talk. Being surrounded by works of art, immersed in museums, and fed a never-ending supply of paint, clay, and pastels probably doomed me to the arts by the age of five. And ever since, I’ve been fortunate to have the encouragement and honesty of my father’s critiques.
I remember hiking in the woods with my Dad, when I was a child. He’s always taken the trails less traveled. We’d climb through thickets and discover ruins of old factories, mines, railway stations. Those hikes had such an impact because they awoke the explorer in me.
Gary Klinga is an editor, writer, book reviewer and lover of art. He lives in Greensburg.