Interview by Reuben Barrack. Images supplied by Andrew Durgin-Barnes.
Andrew Durgin-Barnes encapsulates why it’s important to drop in on our friends. He’s been through hell and back with multiple run-ins with the authorities and missed opportunities in academia. But all of Andrew’s life events have contributed to the professional artist he strived so diligently to become, and his unbreakable determination to grind on and off the board shines throughout his unique aesthetic. His subversion of classicism serves to illustrate the realities of our own urban/rural environments, while borrowing from the grimey vignettes of his past and everyday life. After catching a quick skate session before gearing up for his latest art show in Miami, I caught up with Andrew to discuss the overall motivations behind his art, staying out of trouble, and finding beauty in unfamiliar territory. No bullshit, just some human shit. Smell the realness. Here’s ADB.
What’s up Barnsey! What’s new? Where are you at in the world these days?
I’m living in Miami right now. I was in New York before that and Oakland before that, but I’ve been here since February and I’ll probably move back to NYC after winter.
You were born in SD but grew up in Seattle, what was the skate scene like back then?
It was sick! We had SeaSk8 which was a skatepark everyone would hang out at and just live there. You know how it is: wake up, go to the skatepark, sometimes sleep there.
And then there was Westlake which is like the Embarcadero of Seattle. People still skate there, they kind of knobbed a lot of stuff. There’s a good skate scene, still thriving today.
Do you think it had any impact on your art?
Definitely! Being involved in skateboarding put me around [artists] and graffiti. Me and my friends have always been attracted to grimey shit. Everything I’ve experienced has influenced my art, whether it’s me trying to escape from certain things or embracing the grimier side of things sometimes.
When did you start skating?
I started skating in 97’ when I was 12. I actually got into snowboarding first. But during summer there was no snow so I started skating. And then I fell in love with it and quit snowboarding [laughs].
What was the most challenging aspect of adapting your skating after getting injured?
Back in the day it was all about Thrill of it All and Misled Youth and The End. I was super into gaps, rails and stairs, gnarly stuff like that. Tearing my ACL for the first time happened when I was in high school at 16. I did the physical therapy, I got back on my board. Kept skating my ass off and got everything back. Then, it happened again a couple years later. Same knee. I was going to try and ollie this 20 stair at the Key Arena, and I was warming up on this 13 first and then we were going straight there. I [popped] all weird one of the tries and kicked my board out at the last minute and tore my ACL again.
At that time I was already in party mode. I was 18, I was drinking, and I just didn’t do my physical therapy as good as I should’ve and it really slowed everything down. But I still skate to this day! I actually just got back from the skatepark a half hour ago. I get more enjoyment out of low impact stuff and just skating around. It’s fun, but it is depressing because I see stuff that I wish I could do but it’s hard [on my knee]. I’m trying to work it back, though. I tried a big gap yesterday!
Still going for it! That gets me hyped.
I’m 34 so it’s a lot different now [laughs].
How did you and my brother Nate become homies?
It’s so dorky, but I started going on the Tum Yeto message boards when I was 15 or 16. After school, if I wasn’t skating, I would just be dorking around on my computer. Me and Mikey Haider became friends on there because we were really into punk and the same shit. Since I grew up in SD I would come down there to visit my grandma, so one of the times I was in town Mikey introduced me to Nate and we would skate together a bunch. Those were the good old days!
I remember when you stayed with us in SD when I was 8 or 9, you always had a few tiny sketch pads on you filled with incredible drawings. Do you still sketch at all when you’re mobbing around town?
Not as much as I should. I haven’t done it in a while, but I have this easel that I converted into a backpack. So I can strap on a canvas and go skate somewhere and set it up. I’ll paint, and then I can put it back on and tie it around me and skate home. But I’m always drawing. I don’t ever stop.
Any favorite artists that influenced your style?
Aside from the old masters, like Velasquez and other French academic painters that I’ve always been drawn to, who really got me into painting is Jesse Edwards. He’s an artist and also a skateboarder. I know him from growing up at the skatepark. He saw me spray painting in the bowls. I was painting a naked chick with diarrhea coming out of her ass, some crazy shit. And he said ‘Yo, you should try oil painting.’ So he set me up with [materials] and showed me how to clean my brushes. I did a painting of my shoe which was my first one, and he thought it was really good, so he just kept encouraging me to keep going. He was my mentor.
“I got kicked out of school because I got arrested twice for graffiti.”
Were you formally trained or self-taught?
Jesse got me a full scholarship because he wrote this letter to the same school he went to, which is Gage Academy in Seattle. I went there for six months on a free ride. I had this cool teacher, Mark O’Higgins. He taught me the fundamentals of drawing, and broke down the classical techniques. That was a huge step in making art for me. But then, I got kicked out of school because I got arrested twice for graffiti. They had to give the scholarship away to someone who was taking it more seriously. I would show up hungover and I was even on acid once. Just blowing it.
After I got kicked out of school, I was bummed, but I still took art very seriously. I kept studying from my books and taught myself how to oil paint. Later on in life, around 2014, I met this chick in San Francisco and started dating her. She was going to art school at SF Art Institute and we were hanging out every day. That school has the sickest campus! She mentioned that I should just try and [attend] there, so I qualified for student loans and I went. I was going to get my BFA, but she graduated before I did and she wanted to move to New York so I just said ‘Fuck it.’ Dropped out. I never got my BFA but I learned a lot about the art game from there and how to be a professional artist. The technical stuff I learned on my own.
How do you define your aesthetic of painting?
I’m classicist at heart, but I’m translating things from the eyes of someone who has lived through today. We’re subjected to so much diverse shit, especially as far as art goes and life in general. I’m concerned with composition, and all the geometry and mathematical shit that goes into it. It’s so much more fun if you pay attention to it as you’re creating it, rather than just working until it looks right. I like to have a plan, and that’s where the classicism comes in.
“When I was younger I would see things and think ‘That’s fucking bullshit.’”
What’s your favorite medium of art?
I love painting, but I love all art. It’s been a process for me learning about art and getting to appreciate different types. When I was younger I would see things and think ‘That’s fucking bullshit.’ But once I actually learned about concepts, I dove into it. I love all types of stuff now, especially sculpture. I went to a cool art exhibit last night [featuring] Emmet Moore’s sculptures. I like it all, but painting will always be my number one go-to love.
I love how you turn art on its head to showcase the reality of urban dwellers and squalor that otherwise wouldn’t be portrayed in such a beautifully rendered format. Why do you feel it’s necessary to depict these scenes?
Beauty can be seen in anything, even a pile of shit, if the light’s hitting it right. I’m really inspired by light and contrast. There’s so much ugly shit that’s out there that people would be disgusted by, but if you look at it with a different perspective, it’s beautiful. I think everything deserves attention, even the shit most people would consider to be bad.
“Beauty can be seen in anything, even in a pile of shit…”
Earlier you mentioned getting caught up and doing time for some graffiti. How did that shape you and how have you bounced back from all that?
My longest sentence was nine months, but I did six because I got good time. But before that I was just in and out of jail. I would do a couple months here, a couple months there. It all happened in such a small time frame, from 03’ to 07’. I still had open cases that I was dealing with and I would be out on probation and get caught again. It really sucked but I learned a lot in jail, and it’s nowhere I would want to be anymore. Some people just have to go experience it, I guess. I’m glad that it happened when it did because I have friends that are in prison for a long time now. They got away with so much shit when they were younger that it just got worse and worse. I don’t like seeing anybody incarcerated. But I’m glad I got it out of my system, and I try to avoid it now more than I used to.
“I learned a lot in jail, it’s nowhere I would want to be anymore.”
So, you recently did a painting for an Al Davis Quasi graphic. How did that opportunity come about?
They just hit me up, and Al had already known about my work because he has some mutual friends. They had me do his board, which I thought was sick because it’s from a great photo by this artist [Jacob Holdt]. Then they had me do [Dick] Rizzo’s board, and another board for him that should be out in October.
Have your paintings become your main hustle or do you balance a dayjob as well?
I haven’t had a job in over seven years, I’ve just been grinding. Sometimes it’s really tough, I haven’t paid my rent yet this month. My landlord’s pissed [laughs]! But I just try my best to hustle the paintings. Sometimes I’ll get lucky and somebody will buy a painting for 10 racks and then I’ll be set for a while. Otherwise I’m trying to do little dog portraits here and there just to be able to get some food. It’s fun, I’m just enjoying the whole process. Every year gets better and better.
Who are some of your favorite skaters out of the East Coast right now, or just in general?
East Coast: Rizzo, he’s the shit. That John Shanahan dude, he skates like Kalis. There’s so many crazy good skaters out here right now. In general: all the Baker shit. Tom Penny. Everybody! Every skater is sick.
My favorite shit, now that I think about it, is all the Bootleg [videos]. All the Jay Strickland stuff, like Bootleg 3000 and fucking Scott Kane. That shit was crazy. All the early 00s ghetto shit [laughs].
“I’ve never met an uncreative skateboarder.”
Why do you think so many skateboarders cross the boundaries into becoming artists?
I know it’s so corny to say but skateboarding is totally an art in itself. It’s a performance art. A huge percentage of people drawn to skating are already artistically minded and it’s just natural. I’ve never met an uncreative skateboarder.
What advice would you give to young artists looking to make a career out of their passions?
Don’t give up and don’t listen to anybody. Just do your thing. Believe in yourself and just fucking work really hard. I say that, but it’s a small part of it. It’s more about having the drive to keep going forward and doing it, because it’s going to get hard. Unless you’re really lucky. This shit is not easy to stay dedicated to. You just have to love it. If you love it, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Any new projects or upcoming shows you’re hyped on currently?
I’ve been really busy trying to grind for this show coming up on September 19th here in Miami with this photographer [Dana Lauren Goldstein]. So I’m finishing up work for that and then I think I’m going to NYC to do a mural all through October. At this point, I’m so busy that I can only take [projects] if it’s worth my time moneywise. Which is great, but it’s just one of the downsides of being busy.
“Don’t give up and don’t listen to anybody.”
What keeps you motivated to keep doing your thing?
It’s just in my soul man. If I’m not doing it, I don’t feel right. So I have to. Anytime I’m creating anything, it’s the only time I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing and I’m content. Otherwise, if I haven’t painted in a while I’m really not myself. I’m anxious and irritable. I just have to keep myself happy.
Anyone you’d like to thank? Any shoutouts?
Anybody I’ve ever come across in my life. Without the bad, you wouldn’t know what the good is.
Follow @aedbarnes to stay up-to-date with his latest artworks and check out his new show “Parallel Paradise” with Dana Goldstein @danalaurengoldstein at the Superchief Gallery @superchiefgallerymia on 09/19/19 in Miami, FL from 6pm-Midnight.