By Bianca Maria Zonta

Southeast London-born self-taught painter Barry Bish gently speaks to ROOMS about the inspiration and implications behind his first solo UK exhibition Homeward Bound and his colourful art, brightly instilled with a current of passional electric energy of life.


Mr. Bish, tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you get into painting? How has it changed your perception?

Born 1961, Woolwich. I started work in a small studio on Fleet Street inking in pencil drawn comic strips, then adding speech bubbles etc. To make a living I’ve painted canvas, houses, boats, film and theatre sets, and even people Hollywood stars included. Paint and colour have always earnt me my supper.


What made you choose painting as opposed to other mediums?

I find painting very therapeutic, and a perfect pastime for dreamers and romantics. It’s not so much the end result as the process of making them.


Have you got a favourite project?

No, not really. Whatever I’m working on is favourite until I start the next.


How has your work evolved over time?

My early work was done in whatever paint was at hand. I stumbled into oil paint while looking to add more texture and weight to my images. I’m sure I’m still evolving as time passes. I’m sure there’s continuity there, I like to fill all available space on canvas. Sometimes I paint the first thing that comes to mind, other times I stare at blank canvas till something appears.


Could you elaborate a bit more on your upcoming solo exhibition Homeward Bound (London, 21st – 30th March)?

The title made sense as there’s nautical theme to a lot of it – I love the old traditional tattoo of a tall ship, ploughing through choppy seas, homebound to loved ones. Also Ben Oakley Gallery is right in the heart of maritime Greenwich.


Your ‘living’ paintings are “made up of colourful dabs of paint squeezed directly from the tube onto the canvas, building the image up layer by layer creating rich and heavily textured paintings that have a naive and nostalgic feel about them”. Can you tell us more about your style and technique?

As well as working straight from the tube I also use knives, lolly sticks and occasionally cigarette butts. Usually two or three paintings on the go, as there’s long dry time before it’s dry enough to overpaint. It’s a long process. I enjoy the feel of them like visual braille.


What drives you as an artist?

I’m inspired by Funfairs, Teddy Boys, Pearly Kings, foggy nights, old pubs and most things old that have that ‘feel’ about them. Also by the river which I see from the studio window here at SFSA by the Thames Barrier.


Your art, to me, is very colourful and soulful. I feel like your paintings are a unique hybrid between figurative and abstract. Would you say that’s a reflection of your personality?

Faces fascinate me, eyes in particular. My abstract work is how I imagine energies to look, or vibrations to flow. If you look into them and let your vision relax, you can float right inside them with an atom’s-eye view.


There is an almost dreamy atmosphere to your work. It’s surreal and there is a strong sense of fantasy in your pictures…Would you see yourself living in one of them?

I often empathise with the characters and wonder what they might be thinking. I’m often in the paint amongst them.


Do you feel that your work is escapist and that you strive to create a reality of your own?

All art is escapist, especially if done for the pure joy of doing it. When absorbed in a painting, my ego often takes a tea break and intuition can guide the paint.


What is your relationship between art, artist and audience?

Much as our ancestors did on cave walls, the artist’s role is to use medium to convey what they feel, see or imagine, in a way that grabs the viewer’s attention and resonates with something within. Good art continues to give out the energy the artist puts into the making of it.


Which artists do you most admire, and are there any who have influenced your work?

I like the work of Billy Childish who I met whilst exhibiting as a guest artist at the first Stuckist Exhibition in 2000. He said kind things of my work and proposed a swap that we never got round to. I like to trade work, and I have done it with another artist I admire – fellow Sarf Londoner Ray Richardson.

My style is definitely influenced by that one-eared mad genius Vincent Van Gogh, who I read about in a Ladybird book at primary school. Nothing stood still, everything shimmered with life!


What really distinguishes Barry Bish’s art?

I’m too busy doing to see what’s going on out there. When I look at my work in group shows, it stands out from a distance. The first gallery I showed in was Liz Blackman’s Outside-In gallery on Melrose Avenue, L.A., back in early 90′s.  Here, I learned the term ‘outsider art’.


What would you say to an upcoming artist?

If you enjoy the process of making it and you’re genuinely happy with the end result, then it is good art even if others disagree. Don’t even think about doing it for the money.


Is there anything you wish to explore next?

Probably more of the same, but subjects may evolve as I do. I am still learning.