‘Deep folk artist’ takes it all in to add to his street journal
BY BOB KRASNER | Since self-taught painter Patrick-Earl Barnes is essentially an “outsider” artist, it makes sense that one can usually find him outside. Four to five days a week he travels from his home in Brooklyn to the corner of Spring and Mercer Sts. in Soho, where he leans his art against the wall and becomes, in his words, his “own flagship store.” For him, the bottom line is not based solely on how many pieces he has sold. Instead, there are a number of other criteria, some intangible, that factor into the equation.
Among other things, he’s looking to get people to go to his Web site (patrick-earl.com) and think about what he’s doing. In addition to the possibility that some of those people will buy some work or give him a commission, he’s also hoping that a certain amount of inspiration will find its way out from his art to the world. Although his art has a whimsical, simplistic quality, it deals with some major issues, such as race, self-sufficiency and individualism.
He makes good use of his time on the street. He loves to engage in conversation with potential clients (whether they are buying or not) and the random characters that bend his ear. He keeps a daily journal of his encounters, some of which become panels in an ongoing piece called “Deep Wall” (working title). For the past three years, he has been adding to it almost every day, basing each section on his experiences and observations. At present, the piece measures 7 inches by 4,800 inches (that would be 400 feet long) and he’s not done. It’s quite possible that this piece will become the basis for an animated film, as well.
Barnes makes good use of his time off the street as well, often painting for five to six hours when he gets home at night, and then starting up again first thing in the morning. His pieces have ended up on the walls of Grey Advertising, the Heath Gallery in Harlem and the homes, presumably, of Whoopi Goldberg and Malcolm Gladwell. Pepe Giallo restaurant in Chelsea currently has 20 of his pieces covering the walls, until the end of May.
Barnes sees himself as “a poster boy for other artists” who are trying to be seen. In the 11 years that he’s been selling his work on the street, he said, he’s “developed a tough skin. People will put you down. They’ll say, ‘My kid can do that.’
“But you can’t get mad,” he said. “You have to know who you are.”