Kevin Barry’s debut art book Brainfazer was published by First To Knock last month. As part of our ongoing artist interview series, Mike Sack, of Eye 94, chewed the fat with Kevin about the techniques, influences, and life story that went into making the mind-blower of a book that Johnny Ryan called “a psychedelic outer space puppet show of crazy blinding colors.” Jack Parsons, Japanese science-fiction, Jerry Solomon, and Trish Cyrus are also discussed…
Eye 94: In the introduction to Brainfazer you say that Windsor & Newton, your marker of choice, has been discontinued. What are you going to do when your last Windsor & Newton markers run out? Who is Windsor? Who is Newton? Have you considered making your own neon?
Kevin Barry: When the Windsor and Newtons run out I’ll probably just give up! jk Naw, I’ll continue to color with Copics and Prisma. Who’s Newton? Like Isaac Newton? I’m pretty certain he manufactured magik markers. He also got down with the occult and/or alchemy. Magik and science. Left brain right brain shit. Like Jack Parsons. Love Parsons. What an extraordinary human and he was hella fine! It’d be way rad to learn to make neon. But with the power of my mind and no resources and or no training then probably not. I guess then I don’t have the will. It’s difficult for me to do things outside my routine.
Eye 94: You made Brainfazer in the hours before going to work. What is the job that pays the bills?
KB: I work in a suburban grocery store bakery with a bunch of badass betches who are fun to suffer with. God work’s so boring! My goal for the last couple years was completing Brainfazer. Now my goal is to make a living solely off my work! Just enough to pay my rent and eat and buy the occasional record and art supplies. I’d love to be able to draw 8 hours a day 7 days a week! God willing...
Eye 94: Jack Kirby is first on the list amongst your inspirations for Brainfazer. Eye 94 radio is hosting Abraham Riesman next week, author of True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee. There’s a line in that book about Kirby’s personality: “He learned to temper his more violent impulses, but he never lost his pugilistic sense of right and wrong and never—often to his own detriment—became a schmoozer or a glad-hander.” And in the intro to your own book, you write, “I mostly draw for free. Does that make me an idiot??” My question: Even if you make your art solely for its own sake, what people and things has it led you to, if not money?
KB: Well, I’ve finally started to make more money off my work in the last year or so. Just not enough to sustain myself. Yeah, putting my work on IG changed my life. At least in terms of how I saw myself especially as an artist type. Getting recognition from peeps I’ve admired for years is amazing and beats a drug high any day of the week. I’ve met a lot of my fave artists and who are now fans of my work. It’s been pretty mind blowing. Like Wayne Coyne knows who I am. Yay! I was never that into the Flaming Lips but I‘ve dug Wayne Coyne’s visual art for a long time. His drawings and paintings are so fab! Anyhoo it’d be rad if Miley Cyrus saw my art. I bet she’d dig it. Omg I love Trish Cyrus! Lol! No one says that. I can’t help sayin such thangz cuz I’m a diehard fan of bimbo type ladies! They inspire me to live my best life!
Eye 94: What’s up with Japanese toy design? How did you fall into that interest? What about it gets your gears going?
KB: I think I started getting into Japanese superheroes and monsters back in like ’05 when I visited Japantown in San Francisco and went to the toy store Super 7. That style and look on those type of toys really makes me wanna draw. They look way rad and good strange and typically have gorgeous color schemes. I love Japanese mid 20th century art and culture. So much amazing visual art, movies, and experimental psych rock! Just have to mention one of my fave sci fi movies is Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell. The colors and special effects are amazing. The ufos in the movie and the night sky are so over saturated with neon. Looks so good. Hopefully I can go visit Tokyo some day!
Eye 94: I imagine some comic fans might struggle with the lack of narrative in Brainfazer. Should we make some up? Do your eyes roll back into your head when you think about people bitching about narrative?
KB: So, yeah, Brainfazer is really just a series of random drawings. It isn’t really a comic book. I guess one could say my art’s kinda random in a way. I enjoy being random especially with humor and have been inspired by peeps like Kool Keith. Keith could be kinda random with his humor. He’s actually one of my fave comedians even though his job description is master of ceremonies. “Yo there’s a horse in the hospital” or “meet you at the food court at municipal airport.” Ok see ya there! All that said, if one wants to make up a narrative go for it. There's a whole mad world goin on in the book and it’d be kool for someone to connect the dots and make some sense of thangz. But yeah I absolutely love comics. I think the raddest visual art comes out of alt-comics. It’s like the one thing in the world that I can think of that’s still going super strong. Typically, I gravitate towards old things. Like with music and movies. But with drawing I think some of the raddest shit was made in like the last 20 years. Some personal faves being: Prison Pit, Forming, Powr Mastrs, Puke Force, Kramers Ergot 5 6 and 7, Space Ducks, National Waste, 1800 Mice, Jimbo, Nog a Dod, and Tokyo Zombie to name a few. As much as I love comics, drawing, and writing, a comic is a wee bit out of my league. I’m not much of a writer, but also it’s hard for me to draw certain things over and over again. Like characters and scenery. That said, I am working on a sort of experimental comic at the moment. It’s been pretty fun so far and looks real kool.
Eye 94: Do you always listen to music when you draw? Have you tried listening to music you dislike when you draw?
KB: I used to always draw with music playing and also a movie playing at the same time. Anything experimental. Filmmakers like Hollis Frampton and Kenneth Anger. Kenneth Anger's one of my fave artists. Anyhoo in like the last half a year I’ve mainly been listening to YouTube when I draw. Lots of Chris Hedges, Robert Anton Wilson, Phillip K Dick, occult shit, Chomsky, Tom O’Neil’s Manson book, MKULTRA, etc etc. Yeah, I couldn’t listen to music I hate. I like playing records that inspire me! Like Jerry Solomon and Heldon 6 and Os Mutantes.
Eye 94: I ask because you mention in the book that you’ve fantasized about having an infinite breadth of styles that would be almost unfathomable to attribute to one artist. Do you think that’s a talent/work ethic problem? Or more about allowing yourself to create something you’re uncomfortable with?
KB: I think it’s a talent thing and comfort thing. Also, I go to work 4 days a week so time is of the essence. With limited time I feel I need to go with my fave clean line drawings. If I didn’t have to go to my job maybe I’d be willing to experiment with various styles. I know I’d shoot photography more. I also started shooting videos on my phone and Ipad. I also enjoy collage and makin these like 3D multimedia objects. Also been messin around with Procreate. I spend most of my time drawing though. These days I draw 5 or 6 hours before work alone. I’m fully dedicated to art and workin super hard at it. I put in lots of work but it does not feel like work. I’m super passionate about it and it feels damn good to work on projects. Anyways I should mention 2 artists that seem to have this down are Jason Galea and Tommi Musturi.
Eye 94: You were the high school star QB, in the closet. I suspect you heard a lot of invective that was hurtful to your interior life, while having to present a bulletproof Kevin to everyone at all times. You’ve obviously moved beyond that time and particular conflict, but does that same kind of tension show up when you draw? In other words, how much of your motivation to make art comes from frustration/conflict/anger/etc./etc.?
KB: Well, I’d have to say my motivation for drawing comes from a place of passion and being in a good mood. I’m sure that tension is in there. It’s just more a subconscious thing I believe. Even tho I grew up in the Bay Area I lived in an area where being gay was unacceptable. It was the 90s. It was a really brutal for me on the inside at that time. I have to say things have gotten a lot better in the area I grew up. Definitely with young people it has. I’m really glad about that. Ever since I finally came fully out of the closet I’ve flourished! It means so much to be my true honest self and have the support from friends and family. Drugs and repressing my sexuality when I was younger almost destroyed me! But don’t give up! Things can get so much better!
Eye 94: You mentioned psych music and LSD as elements that broke you out of that brutal time in high school. Can your artwork present part of the essence of an acid trip? Can you explain how LSD altered your mindset?
KB: No, it doesn’t. Takin a psychedelic substance is an incredibly powerful experience. My art looks psychedelic but that’s about it. Like it can’t bend time and space and turn your ego inside out. Acid most def changed my mindset. It both helped and burned me. Acid can be a great tool for seeing through mainstream modern American culture. To look at things deeper with cleansed eyes and perception. Like being a space alien and visiting earth for the first time. But LSD also caused me to have a lot of anxiety. It became difficult to socialize with other peeps cuz my anxiety and nerves were shot so bad. I guess there’s been studies by scientists sayin psychedelics don’t cause mental health problems long term. What does this even mean? So mainstream science is telling me that if I drink a vial of acid it’ll be perfectly safe? Was it safe for Roky Erickson, Syd Barrett, Skip Spence, or Peter Green? I really question the current mainstreaming of psychedelics. Idk seems like there could be an alternative agenda. Who knows? What happens when big pharma gets a hold of it. Psychedelics are turning into Prozac. I’m not even sure what I’m tryin to say. I'm just skeptical of any “new” wonder drug in mainstream science and culture.
Eye 94: You cite Britney Spears as an inspiration. Has Britney received a copy of your book? Have you drawn her?
KB: No, Britney did not receive a copy of Brainfazer. I’ll have to figure out how to get her a copy cuz that’d be awesome. Love Brit Brit so much. No I have never drawn Britney. Drawing women is a struggle for me. A lot of times when I’ve drawn women they look like men with wigs on. I mean that’s kool too it’s just difficult to get a certain look. I’d like to implement more diva/bimbo women into my work. Maybe I’ll just put em in space helmets since I struggle with faces. Drawing curvy women is super fun tho! Man or woman—there’s somethin really satisfying about drawing the human figure. Def one of my fave thangz to draw!