Unlike many art students at the University of Rhode Island, Lila Barber did not begin to explore her artistic side until coming to the university.
Because so many art majors have been interested in the subject since they were children, or at least for many years, Barber’s perspective as an artist is quite unique among other students. Barber said that it quickly became natural to her despite the late start.
“Once I started getting into [art], it became easy,” she said. “It’s amazing how quickly it progressed over just four years.”
Although she’s progressed quickly, she also reflected how her experience in art has changed over the years.
“The longer I’ve been here it’s become more serious. The older you get, the more you get recognized [by your peers] … it’s not like there’s more pressure, but you have to be consistent, this is your work now,” Barber said.
As the seriousness of her work has increased, so has her commitment to her individual style and preferred mediums. Barber’s work is done primarily in printmaking, and most recently in painting, but her favorite technique for printmaking is stone lithography. She said that what draws her in is the technical process of the printing..
“You have to draw on the stone, treat it with acid which etches into the stone, you do some more treatments…and hopefully it comes out,” Barber said. “I have to be sure about what I’m doing. It’s kind of stressful.”
Despite the fact that Barber’s preferred medium is sometimes “scary” and “really permanent,” she said that the way she works is primarily in long, continuous stretches, rather than gradual intervals over long periods of time. Often, she says, it is more artistically productive for her to “just trust it” and follow her first instinct, rather than losing the ideas that are present in the moment.
The piece that she is most proud of today is the painting “Tesseract”, made on a four-foot canvas. “It was a challenge I never faced before, doing something to that scale,” Barber said. “It was the most in-depth piece I’d done, the first time I’d gotten so much down on a canvas.”
The style that Barber works with is immediately visually striking, and the most prominent themes in her work are usually quickly evident.
“I do a lot of figures … I try to do a kind of surrealist thing,” Barber said. Most of the time, the focus on these figures is “bending the human form to some abstraction.” Along the same lines, Barber said her thematic ideas are “usually consistent, [but] not to disturb people. Well, it’s kind of disturbing, but hopefully you still want to look at it.”
Above all, however, what she stressed most when discussing her art was her opinion on interpretation. Barber, more than many artists, places a high value on the viewer’s opinion.
“I take in interpretation more than what I was thinking when I make it,” Barber said. “[I] put it out there in hopes that people will understand it more than I do. It will speak for itself in a way, but it will never come out exactly the way I think.”
As for why she thinks this way, she made herself very clear. “It almost has more of a purpose than it would have had,” she said. She also stressed the importance of “not feeling like there is a certain ‘correct’ or single interpretation; you have to apply it to where you’re at in your life.”
Barber takes pride in this kind of relationship that she has with the viewers of her art, in allowing them freedom of interpretation and not forcing her own intent onto the display. Not everyone is always prepared for such an open attitude, though.
“I’ll always hear: ‘was I right?’” Barber said. But, she always makes sure to explain that what’s right to the viewer is the only kind of correctness that matters.
“It connects to everyone differently; it conveys different feelings [to everyone],” she added. “ It’s meant to be looked at. You can’t tell people that they can’t understand or appreciate it.”