Uniquely cool. Shop our new patterned styles.

Episode 43
Artist Barry X Ball

  • 2 min read

Episode Description

A discussion with artist Barry X Ball. His work utilizes the latest advances in 3D imaging, stone cutting and robotic milling to create breathtaking sculptures that are in conversation with art history. The hand-finished sculptures are known for their use of unique varieties of stone from around the world, as well as their meticulous craftsmanship. The results are captivating.


Craig: [00:00:10] This is Art Sense, a podcast focus on educating and informing listeners about the past, present and future of art. I'm Craig Gould. On today's episode, I speak with artist Barry X Ball. His work utilizes the latest advances in 3-D imaging, stone cutting and robotic milling to create breathtaking sculptures that are in conversation with art history. The hand-finished sculptures are known for their use of unique varieties of stone from around the world, as well as their meticulous craftsmanship. The results are captivating. And now, a conversation about 21st century stone sculpture with Barry X Ball.

Craig: [00:01:02] Barry X Ball, thank you so much for joining me today on the Art Sense podcast. Barry, I usually like to start with artists with a hypothetical which is say you're seated at a dinner party next to someone who doesn't know you and has never seen your work. How do you describe your work and what it looks like to them?

Barry: [00:01:21] My work is purposefully complex, so it would take me a few minutes to describe it, but to try to cut that down, I'm probably the contemporary artist in the international milieu who has most consistently produced stone sculptures, an ancient endeavor for the longest time. For the past over 20 years, my work is recognizable figurative stone sculpture. Beyond that, its relationship to work of the past is indirect and complex.
Show More >
Craig: [00:02:14] I was having a conversation with an artist recently about how a lot of the magic in art making is in unexpected chance. Starting one place, and then through working in the studio, through happenstance, through serendipity,the next thing you know, you've you've kind of come upon something that that really resonates. And I thought that might be an interesting conversation to have with you because you haven't always been the the Barry X ball we think of today. You're originally from California. You get to New York and your work looks different when you arrive in New York. Can you kind of describe where you were when you stepped foot at JFK?

Barry: [00:02:58] Well, actually, I drove cross-country. Vw bus like.

Craig: [00:03:04] It's so much more romantic than getting off a plane.

Barry: [00:03:07] Yeah. It turns out that my job, my side job to support myself as an artist was me delivering parts between JFK, Newark and LaGuardia Airport. So I did spend a lot of time at the airport, but I spent a month coming to cross country, visited all the museums and knew this is where I should be, and had been told that by my professors in college. They knew I was serious and pretty compulsive and dedicated by nature. And at that time, Los Angeles was a far number two to New York in the United States as a place for artists to live and settle. I mean, there's a couple of shows going on right now about L.A. art in the 60s, and there was another reason why I left it. It was to get away from a complicated family situation and never look back. And so I was lucky to have met when I first arrived a group of artists who were also super serious about what they did, but they were coming out of minimalism, and a lot of them were monochrome painters and the kind of religious fervor that they had for art making matched one thing from my background was that I was raised by intense fundamentalist Christians. I had abandoned that and basically substituted art for Christianity when I met it in college. But I met among this group of painters in New York, a kind of rules based practice. I subsequently rejected that, too, although I respect what they taught me.

Barry: [00:05:12] There was a period in New York when there were not nearly as many galleries. We're talking late 70s, early 80s. The art community was smaller, and almost all of these artists were 10 to 30 years older than me, had been in New York for many years and did not have art careers but painted all the time. And that's a phenomenon we don't really have anymore. You come to New York and you've got to get an art career going or you kind of take off and leave and these people were going to be here, hell or high water and make their art. And they spent a huge amount of time doing it and all had side jobs. And that was the model that I, I drank in. I thought I was never going to have an art career either concept of selling art, showing in galleries, all of that was kind of foreign. These people were more about studio practice and then dialog around it. I mean, we're talking sitting around the long table with 15 and 20 people recording their dialogs and arguing civilly but intensely about the esthetics of what they're doing. I just really don't think you have that anymore. And it was a great kind of fundamentalist way for me to again start thinking about my work. And anyway, so my work reflected that initially, too.

Craig: [00:06:54] You know, one of the guests I had recently on the podcast was Donald Sultan. And in some of your earlier panels kind of remind me of work he was doing and work he still does where he uses plywood to construct these platforms that come 2 to 3 inches off the wall. And then he uses a grid of materials to start working on. And I see some of that in these original panels. Can you kind of talk about how you went from something that was flat at the very most considered a relief, to starting to explore three dimensions?

Barry: [00:07:32] Sure. Well, I for the first time really saw in depth historical works here in New York at...The Metropolitan was my favorite museum. I went there many times more than the modern art museums, The Modern, The Guggenheim and The Whitney, and started to fall in love with the directness of Italian gold ground panel paintings, quattrocento, trecento, Giotto, Duccio, etc. and then started to explore the materials that the artists of that time utilized. I read Cennino d'Andrea Cennini's famous treatise on making paintings. And I also read Ralph Mayer's art technical book that everybody read about working directly, creating your own materials, don't use adulterated commercial materials, etc. And then started to think about the support that I painted on. I mean, this is kind of a confluence of my kind of fascination with this ancient work and the thinking that goes into minimalism, how an object relates to the room it's in, how it's attached to a wall, pedestals, revealing everything, stripping away all that is superfluous, etc. One of the monochrome painters always likened his paintings to racing sailboats, and he said that everybody else was making cargo liners carrying cultural cargo. I'm making stripped down racing vessels. Okay. You know, I have come a long way from that kind of absolutist stance, but that was the thinking that was current at that time, really getting beyond the modernist initial breakthroughs and getting pretty religious.

Barry: [00:09:53] Donald Judd, Robert Ryman, Brice Marden were admired artists, Richard Serra and so on for me and this this group of people I was with and eventually, even when I moved beyond being involved with this monochrome group, I love that, that approach. And I've often said that if you look at what I'm doing today, if it's a flayed riff on Saint Bartholomew, it has the same thinking as my works that were monochrome rectangles on a wall. And I think a lot of people confuse minimalist thinking with boxes, spheres, cones, circles, reductive forms. And to me it was more a comprehensive, minute way of thinking about an object and all the elements that go into it and how it's presented. And it could actually take a figurative form, but still have that same rigor of thought. I think I've kept that that that's at the core of my artmaking, even though the form is radically different than what I did and made 30 and 40 years ago here in New York.

Craig: [00:11:16] When you departed this monochrome group, is that when you started experimenting with the black and white cut Corian pieces?

Barry: [00:11:26] Yeah, that was a kind of if you want to look back retrospectively, you sound like an art historian.

Craig: [00:11:34] Well, I try.

Barry: [00:11:35] I do. But, you know, there's a transitional phase. I suppose that's it. I started being, again, seductively interested in Italian striped gothic architecture, Sienna Cathedral, San Miniato al Monte in Florence, the buildings in Pistoia. I just somehow loved that I related to striped paintings that I was seeing that were more contemporary and started making the units of my support the width of the stripes equal to the size of the squares of gold. I mean, everything had to make logical sense, but they became steadily more complex. This work with the support led me to teach myself to be a woodworker. I should say that I went to a liberal arts college, Pomona College, Claremont, California. It was the only non-religious school I'd applied to. I was having severe doubts about my whole fundamentalist background. And when it came time to accept admission, it was my only choice. And the rest of them were like Biola and Westmont and all these other Bible colleges. And thank God I met art and all of the disciplines that I'd been sheltered from growing up and look, here I am. But in terms of my work, it comes out of Catholicism. You'd have to say all of those gold ground paintings I'm looking at, was looking at, were depictions of religious scenes, but I was focusing more on the object and I taught myself to be a woodworker.

Barry: [00:13:38] I picked up all the technical skills that they didn't have time for in a liberal arts college. I remember asking a professor, I went with a long list of How do you do this? Where do you find that? How do you buy this? How do you make this? He said, "Barry we don't have time to talk about that here. We talk about ideas". It was probably a pretty good thing because they would have taught me ceramics or clay modeling or oil painting. I did a little bit of all those things, but I ended up having this really high tech slash old school working method that they wouldn't have taught me anyway. And so, I went about learning how to make things in New York in a very dedicated way. I had respect for New York and the artists who were here. I felt like this is the Olympics, and you don't you don't go there unless you've been training for years to be able to make things well. And so in that process of learning to make things, it just amplified my desire to make the support of the painting, part of the painting. And then the next step was to have it come off the wall and start to be a sculpture per se. And that progression is continued to where now I am a sculptor.

Craig: [00:15:05] How did that transition go from the discipline of these forms to being attracted to the figure? Was there a particular point? Was there a particular project where you kind of dipped your toe in the water and figured out that this is this is what's been missing in my life?

Barry: [00:15:25] Yeah, there was a couple of things. One is I made these very complex, suspended black and white sculptures, complex to make and layout. And I have to say that at the end of it, I was not surprising myself. I was trying to feel like, man, this is a real mountain to climb to make each one of these. And there was not enough buzz at the end of that process simply. And I was looking for something else that was actually more difficult, but it would surprise me. And at the same time, I remember I was milling s striped block on the Bridgeport milling machine that I built and and the cutter bit into it and made curved lines a simple thing. Imagine like a slice out of this kind of looking like a Bridget Riley painting or some op art thing, Vasarely or something. But they were swirling and at the midpoint in making this thing and I'm going, "Curved surface. What would be the most complex curve surface to deal with?" And I thought, "the human head" and I had no figurative training, etc. and I just thought there's a hell of an endeavor. Let's, let's think about doing that.

Barry: [00:16:51] Long process led to me doing 50-60 portrait sculptures in stone, but something else happened at the same time is the advancing technology. I was given my first computer by Apple in 1988. Under this program they called Apple Seed. Luckily, I barely caught the digital wave. I was 33 at that time and they gave them to artists just to see what the hell we do with them. And I was then one of the earliest adopters of 3D scanning at that time was only available in the military and Hollywood. My first figurative sculpture sculpture was actually a self-portrait when I went to LA special effects area in the Valley and got myself 3D scanned through this kind of cumbersome early iteration of that equipment. And I felt like I could do figurative sculpture in a new analytic way and bypass all that traditional Bernini-esque, École des Beaux-Arts, Gérome figure modeling, training, making the horse shape figures and all of that. And then as a result, my work would be different. It wouldn't be traditional figurative stone sculpture by employing all the advances in digital technology.

Craig: [00:18:21] Help me understand. So this is in the 90s, you're able to to get a 3D scan. Did they have the type of robotic milling that you use today back then? Or how were you using that 3D scan? Because I feel like at some point technologies converged around you.

Barry: [00:18:44] Through a revolution there, including 3D printing now, which is a big part of the at least mid-point of making my work. Yeah, there were kind of crude 3D mills, CNC (computer numerically controlled mills) available. They were kind of adaptations originally of non CNC milling machines that had been used for a long time. There was also duplicating machines, kind of...imagine when you have a key made how they drag a little pointer across the little teeth of your key and it mills another one next to you imagine that in 3D space that's the kind of tools that are available. I made one a 3D duplicator machine.

Craig: [00:19:34] Wow.

Barry: [00:19:35] And it was just like progressively we get to the point now where I'm using anthropomorphic robots like the ones you see in car factories. And the scanning used to have to sit in a chair and hold the pose for eighteen seconds while the scanner swung around. You was kind of like the old daguerreotypes, you know, yielded these kind of frozen poses. And now you can have a portrait sculpture victim sit in an array of 240 high end 3D digital SLRs and have those 240 cameras fire simultaneously like you're having your portrait taken. I can be talking to the person. We can snap multiple shots and get these beautiful 3D images with no pain to the portrait sculpture victim, great resolution. I mean, I used to, for all my early portraits, sculptures had the life cast everybody, which was hard on the sitters, your face covered with alginate and plaster. And I did that. And then I would make a plaster positive and scan it because the scanning technology really wasn't so good for scanning a live human. Now that's easy. Now the scanners that we I scan historical sculptures with our hand-held superfast.

Barry: [00:21:08] I just was in Florence, Italy, up on scaffold scanning Donatello's "Judith and Holofernes".

Craig: [00:21:14] Oh, wow.

Barry: [00:21:15] And we could do the whole thing in three hours, but boom. Done. Even as far back as 2011, I scanned "St Bartholomew Flayed" in the Duomo, Milano and Michelangelo's "Pieta Rondanini" and that would take like three days per sculpture with painstakingly taking a series of 3D scans and then having the software piece them together. Now you have this hand-held thing you just kind of wipe figuratively over the surface of the sculpture. You don't touch it, but you just kind of almost color it in, and there it is as a 3D object. So it's made everything easier and cheaper. I mean, the original scanners, the really good ones, were $100,000. Now, for this state of the art thing, it's $30,000 for...same thing with 3D printers, everything has gotten more accessible. Although I would have to say for young artists, whenever I see anybody working in stone and I really don't know the world of traditional stone sculpting again, I never was trained that way. I've never wielded a hammer and chisel in my life. I mean, I'm a very good maker of things. I taught myself to be a cabinetmaker and work with all kinds of materials and have a beautiful shop. But I never did that traditional Michelangelo-esque stone sculpting. And whenever I see somebody hacking away at a block of stone, I go, Why? And the number one reason why for young artists is it's super pricey to use robots. I mean, six figure bills and they can't do it. So they're basically undervaluing their own labor and just hacking away blocks of stone for no reason, but except that they can't afford to do it another way.

Craig: [00:23:05] That brings up a question I've always had about sculptors in the world of art, and that is economic complexities of being a large scale sculptor. You almost have to have a customer ahead of time because building a large scale sculpture on spec, someone's taking on a great deal of risk, right?

Barry: [00:23:25] Yes.

Craig: [00:23:25] And so can you tell me kind of how you have navigated that over the years?

Barry: [00:23:30] Well, because I work relatively small human head size. When I was doing figurative work and in my work before that normal kind of painting costs not so crazy on the materials side. Even when I got into stone, I was working small and so I purposely did all my portraits on spec. I wanted to have the freedom to do what I wanted to do. I wasn't meeting a client's expectations and luckily was able to show these things as independent portrait heads the same way we would go to the capital and museums in Rome and look anonymous Roman types as well as emperors and so on. And I like that. But you're right, once you start getting into larger works and it felt like something I really wanted to do, commissions are really helpful, although I'm crazy enough that I have a couple of pieces downstairs in the big studio fabrication hall right now, which are close to seven figures to fabrication bills that I have risked myself. You know, it's I'm maybe addicted to risk. You know, I don't play cards being raised a fundamentalist Christian. I don't gamble. I don't I walk away from games. I think it's because my whole life as an artist has been one big risk. I don't want to play it games on the side. So yeah, it's it's a huge issue. I did a portrait of Prince Albert of Monaco and I'm now actually I was commissioned to do his wife, Princess Charlene. And those were realized in solid gold. Like, I think the princess has 26 pounds of gold. In that case, yeah, I had to have a commission to work with that crazy amount of money just on material alone to make it. So, that's been fun. I would have never gotten to do that, to work in solid gold without the commission.

Craig: [00:25:44] It makes me curious because I mean, gold is incredibly dense and I'm just trying to think, is this wind up being the size of a softball or is it hollow in terms of like your your Pope John Paul II in terms of the honeycomb of that construction? And how how big are these portraits?

Barry: [00:26:05] They're life size, like a human head. The conceptual idea was that I wanted to work from the core out with stone. You're working on the surface. It's been an issue that I've been thinking about more and more. There's always a mass at the core of stone sculpture, partly because of the delicacy of the material. Have you ever had anything stretching out like an arm or a foot or something? They would always incorporate a prop into the stone. Michelangelo's David has a tree growing up its back of its leg, you'd have Roman equestrian sculptures with a tree in the belly of the horse. The guy would be gesturing out and you'd have kind of a spear or another prop coming out of his body. It's a difficult material to make an airy arabesque-like form with technically. And I've been doing that actually with stone, too. But I thought when I'm working with metal, I can do that. I'm working additively first of all, on not hacking away at a mass to get down to the figure. I mean, the classic division of sculpture is Rodin being the model of the additive built up forms versus Michaelangelo hacking away and getting down to the form. I mean, these portraits I did of the Prince and Princess were the first ones that I did additively so they were 3D printed in wax, the elements.

Barry: [00:27:40] And yeah, it's not if it was solid gold at the size of a human head, it would be crazy heavy. But I wanted you to be able to see all the way through to the core. There are symbolic elements in there. The shield of Monaco and the knights and the element that suffuses the whole head is seaweed because of Prince Albert's support of ocean conservation and study. His family supported Jacques Cousteau, etc. And so he's a prince, a blingy guy. But he has a very good environmental record, which I'm all over. My family are all a bunch of environmentalists, including me. So, I had an opportunity to kind of bring a lot of things together there. But in that case, I work with the Italian jewelry company Damiani on those portraits. I do a lot of the work we do all the digital sculpting here in my studio, and then I'm back and forth a lot to Italy. I'm in Italy five to six times a year working on various aspects of all of my my artwork.

Craig: [00:28:52] I understand, right, that you have your main studio in Brooklyn, but there's another studio that works on larger pieces in Italy. Did I understand that right?

Barry: [00:29:03] Well, I have I work with outside fabricators.

Craig: [00:29:07] I see.

Barry: [00:29:08] And so I have one work here I think has ten different outside fabricators on it. And we kind of act like the clearing house, the control of all of that. And we never have a piece fabricated by anybody and it's delivered to the gallery. And here's my finished artwork. We're first of all on all stone work. We do all the handwork here. The next part, what I'm going to say is I'm meaning to cast no aspersions on the work of my contemporaries, several of whom are my friends and whose work I respect. But it's probably not so well known that there is one room in Carrara, Italy, a large fabrication room where you can see the stone works of most of the international level contemporary sculptors simultaneously being made. And ladies are really good artists. I mean, from Tony Craig to Jan Fabre, from Damien Hirst to Jeff Koons to Vanessa Beecroft to Marc Quinn, duh duh duh you literally have them lined up and there'll be these teams of Italian craftspeople working on them and they could have robot milling as part of it. I still utilize the robot milling capability of my friends there in Italy. I also have another facility I work with in the US, but that's the one element of the whole long, complex, winding path to making one of my works that is done off site. They don't touch my work. I'm known as the crazy American guy who won't let the famous Italian craftspeople touch his work. I have a team here and it's.

Barry: [00:31:01] It's also different in terms of number of hours on a large, let's say, human scale monumental piece. I spend up to 10,000 hours of handwork after all of the advanced process is played out. They showed me proudly one of the works in Carrara and I won't say who is by and they said we spent 500 hours on this. That's kind of their limit. When you get a sculpture made just for budgetary reasons and so on, I mean this is also the problem for me in my bankroll is that I'm not willing to call it quits at any one point for budgetary reasons. We just keep going. But that's probably what you saw, is that the robot milling is done off site. We are in the process of getting our first robot here at the studio. I still hope I'm going to be working with my friends and collaborators in Italy and here in the States. But I built this entire new studio complex over ten years. It's 20,000 square feet with all of the infrastructure in place to have every aspect of the making of my work, all in one facility. And the only thing we're missing right now is a robot. We have a giant custom made Pellegrini computer controlled diamond wire saw. We have water filtration system, twin 2010 bridge cranes, you know, industrial air compressors, all of the stuff you need to back up all of the kind of high tech processes. And we're just missing that one element at the moment that's going to be here.

Craig: [00:32:45] That robot's on its way?

Barry: [00:32:47] Yeah, we're we're in the process of checking it out to get it over here. I mean, they're they're kind of custom made and it's yeah, it'll be here probably within the next year. And when we work with robots off site, we also are very involved in laying out the tool paths, programing working side by side with the people who have them. I think my work is the only stone sculpture that has evidence of the robot milling in part of the final product. A pattern of flutes ridges that I vary in specify. Sometimes it looks like corduroy cloth, for example, in the bed of the sleeping hermaphrodite. Or to me it's kind of recalls this pattern of fluting on Egyptian sculptures in the drapery, etc. I want evidence of the process and I cultivate that. And we're writing that tool path and transmitting it to the people with the machine. So I mean, the next step is to have the machine. I'm not just showing up with a model which is and saying, "Hey, get this thing made and then show up and see the finished product". We're pretty down in the trenches with all aspects.

Craig: [00:34:07] I mean, there's a tradition there also. I mean, the college I went had this amazing Rodin and that the backside of it was rough hewn. You could see you could still see evidence of these...back In the day, there would be the maquette and they would take measurements around the maquette and drill into specific depths and then hack away, which again, is it's all part of this automated process that you're taking advantage of today. It's just if they had the opportunity to do it 120 years ago, they certainly would have.

Barry: [00:34:43] Michelangelo, was he actually developed this water bath immersion technique for measuring and scaling up that is very close to digital technology. The levels of the water are very close to like CAT scan slices through a figure. I mean, these guys would have been all over it. The idea that there's some romantic vision they had of Chipping Stone by the fireside, that's just some later conceit. They were pushing the envelope for their time. Canova, who developed the pointing up technique, which you're describing, I mean, they're still people doing it. When I go to Italy, I see them moving the frame back and forth of the points and the marks on the plaster model and everything. I'm going, Why? Because it's basically halfway to the robot work and there's nothing fun about it. You're not really utilizing your sculpture skills that much. You're just removing material for months. It's drudge work. Let the machine do that for you and then you can sculpt. The final surface of mine is sculpted. I mean, my team is all people with master's degrees in sculpture, some of them from traditional academies that teach in the old way. And I utilize that fantastic knowledge base in the making of my work. I mean, it's not like we press print and the robot makes the work and we walk away. No. It's, it's just a tool in the process of making it the final work.

Craig: [00:36:21] But, you know, it seems like even though their hands are on the objects, it seems like as a sculptor, the names you are throwing out earlier, you are probably more integrally involved in the process than most of your peers having that fabrication in your studio. What do you think?

Barry: [00:36:42] Yeah, it's if there was one raison d'etre for building this whole studio, for having the studio in its current form was to have the material and what I'm doing with it, the forms I want to make, the ideas I want to pursue interlaced. There's a lot of utilization of white marble to this day or gray, maybe black granite when you see a contemporary sculpture or heat bronze, but the black patina, green or whatever, patina, bronze, kind of dead materials that are bit inert. I mean, Carrara Marble is a beautiful stuff, justifiably famous. The entire Italian stone industry started because the Romans found it there and it's been used for millennia and it's a gorgeous, fine grained material. But the crazy thing is, the first time I went to Carrara, I saw 30 miles of stacked blocks in a rainbow of colors and different translucency, veined, pitted, fissured, incredible material stuff stacked from all over the world. It's a stone shopping center of the world. Iranian translucent pink, a Brazilian blue, Bolivian stone, Vietnamese white, Egyptian, Portuguese, Southern French. I mean, it's that people haven't really used that to great expressive effect. It was kind of shocking to me. I'm going, "how can you drive by all this stuff and head for the white every time?" You know?

Craig: [00:38:33] Sure.

Barry: [00:38:33] I remember walking into the Ufizi and I'm looking down that long hallway that we all look at before we charge in and see the the Giotto, Duccio and the Cimabue and start our tour and end up with the Botticellis. There's this endless Vasari hallway down there with white twisting forms, and I didn't want to add one more to that pile.

Barry: [00:38:56] I just felt like come on, let's let's utilize this incredible possibilities inherent in what the Earth produces. And it brings me to a more basic question. Sorry if I'm rambling on about...I'm not a reflective stone sculpture maker, again, coming out of minimalism, examining everything. I mean, I want to understand why I'm utilizing this material. It's not just like in the tradition as a way to make a permanent work of art and "oh, gee, isn't it a miracle that you could carve that thing out of a stone", which I get all the time, you know? I mean, we all go see David in the Accademia in Florence, we go, "he made it out of a rock. Oh, my God. He could never make a mistake. And what if he..." I mean, that whole mysticisation of stone is part of what still is there, even with advanced crazy forms of a contemporary artist. I just felt like there was this whole other world I could bring to it. They talk about the translucency of Carrara marble. My God, it's not even translucent at all compared to the onyx in the world, which to me can materialize this very stony stuff, this obdurate material, and make it diaphanous and ethereal. And I've played with that and I'm usually in crazy veined a lot of Mexican onyx that I get from not from Italy, from the desert of Baja, California. It looks wounded, it looks bloody, looks like it's been attacked. And then play up that with what I'm making out of the sculpture. So yeah, it's a, it's an all encompassing material plus form adventure online.

Craig: [00:40:48] So what I'm hearing is that you make very conscious decisions about matching stones to perhaps the emotion or what you're trying to communicate with a piece. For example, "Bartholomew" in the Rouge d'Roi Marble seems like a perfect compliment, right? Or the Iranian Translucent Onyx with with "Purity" the ability to actually have that translucence. I've heard you say that the Mexican Onyx is your favorite. What about it excites you the most?

Barry: [00:41:23] First of all, I should say that I am super impressed that you have done your research and know all these pieces and the stones I've used for them. This is not normal. And I'm honored that you did this. So, yeah, you're exactly right. The St. Bartholomew. I wanted it to look like USDA prime beef steak. Well-marbled, meaty and bloody. Yeah. And the translucent for a translucent veil? Yes. The Mexican onyx is a bit of a crapshoot. I mean, we now scan all the blocks that we utilize and are able to move the figure around inside of it and position it to the best of our ability with what's going on with the veins and features of the stone. But there's still a random kind of acceptance that you have to have. I mean, you're going to utilize that stone. You're going to have to be prepared to accept what it gives you. And I've...I think a good example, as I did in Mexican Onyx scholars rocks out of the Chinese tradition, which is basically, I view as almost a precursor of Duchamp, who was, by the way, my favorite artist in college. I loved the radicality of everything about it, that conceptual strangeness. I mean, to me, I mean, I never went to a museum as a kid. You know, you got this guy who's been in the museum and out the other side doing crazy stuff but a ready-made is about decontextualizing and recontextualizing. You know, you put a bottle rack or a urinal or a snow shovel in the new context, you don't do anything to present it, maybe change how it lays or something.

Barry: [00:43:11] And that's it. Art is in the head, not the hand. And the Chinese had actually been doing that for thousands of years by in a pure act of connoisseurship, grabbing a rock out of nature and just presenting it on a wooden stand, almost like God's a better sculptor than we could ever be.

Craig: [00:43:33] Sure.

Barry: [00:43:34] But so I started...that to me fit exactly like what I was saying earlier there. These guys are kind of thinking about utilizing natural forms at a basic level, and I'm utilizing these very assertive stones which are not neutral carriers of form and content. They add something to it and I've got to have kind of a reason why I'm doing it. So to me, they were...scholars rocks were like natural readymades. And the strange thing was that then the Chinese, if there was a good one, then they started copying them or they started they almost had like an Olympic scoring system. This one's got a nine for perforation and this one's got an eight four color and they would become renowned scholars, rocks that would become archetypes that other people would would copy or they they'd kind of modify it if there were some imperfect parts of the natural stone. And to me, I mean, all that stuff is interesting. It's just part of recognizing what you're utilizing, not just accepting it as a carrier of information. I think I said that's why I don't like bronze. It's inert to me. It doesn't bring much to it besides the tradition of bronze.

Barry: [00:44:52] And I've done a couple of sculptures that are white marble. And I have to say that they've been fun and I like the results, but they don't seem like my work. They seem a little cold and inert. And with all my works, I'm trying to get multiple levels simultaneously hitting you. If it's a portrait sculpture, the features of the sitter, then there's the color of the stone. Then there's what I do with the robot on top of that. And then I would put sometimes Victorian floral relief over the top of that. And then there's the venation of the stone. I'm trying to like make it so suffused with information that it's suffocatingly dense that you can't tell...people, tell me sometimes my work look like they're like a hologram because there's almost too much to take in at once. And to me that's the essence of a real object in the real world that can't be reproduced. That's kind of what I'm aiming for, is something that requires direct experience and not a simple one time get. I mean, we all love pop art and punk rock and it's all about super direct is what it is. I tend to really like layered, conceptually, iconographically, technique wise, works from the past, this richness that is a hard one and that hits you on many levels and many different days in different ways. To me, that's the definition of a great work of art, is that incredible complexity that I'm shooting for, I hope, and maybe achieve every once in a while. So.

Craig: [00:46:40] Yeah, you know, it's funny, you you speak of the scholar stones and if you had asked me two or three years ago what a scholar stone was, I would have drawn a total blank. But there was this incredibly popular movie from Korea just a year and a half ago, "Parasite", and the whole plot of the movie kind of pivots on the scholar stone. They kind of have to explain to you what it is, you know, as part of the plot. And so let me ask you.

Barry: [00:47:08] Artists love them, too.

Craig: [00:47:11] Sure. Well, I mean, it seems kind of tied to the like the whole concept of like a bonsai tree. Right. Maybe there's a little bit more manual manipulation and creating a bonsai, but it's this same thought of having this imaginary, unexpected juxtaposition of scale, right? Your work is obviously paying homage to historic masterpieces. Can you talk to kind of the history of artists being in dialog with the artwork that comes before them and how you're continuing that long history of being in dialog?

Barry: [00:47:54] Sure. Well, I mean, I remember in Janson's art history, they almost started big chapters, big sections of the book with I think was like Mantegna's take on Dürer and you know, Picasso's take on earlier artists. I mean, that's a classic student exercise, just a copy from the Masters. I mean, you go to the Metropolitan Museum today, you got people with easels painting. So it's one more instance where the advances in technology gave me the ability to, I thought, get just the facts from the from the get go when one artist is doing his take on another, there's interpretation in the traditional way of doing it. I mean, they show Michelangelo's earliest work. It's  in Fort Worth at the the Louis Kahn building.

Craig: [00:48:57] Yeah. The Kimbell. 

Barry: [00:48:59] At the Kimbell, yeah. It came to New York. It's after Martin Schongauer "The Temptation of Saint Anthony" and the young Michelangelo, I think, when he was like 13 did this take on it. But it was colored. It wasn't an etching, and  he's already trying to assert himself. And the changes were subtle but significant. And. To me. I mean, one goal is to be to keep all the power of this historical work that I'm working with, but take them to a new place and I don't like jokes. Can I say that when I say a Saturday Night Live episode from my college days, when I thought those things were so hilarious, they fall flat. Humor doesn't work so well anymore. They all look like they're overacting and Steve Martin or Dan Aykroyd. And I'm going, "Yeah, boy, that was funny? I can't believe that". But artist gestures that are one line, humorous things, I mean, I'm not going to name any names, but if you put yourself in the lap of the Virgin and make a Pieta, or if you put high heels on a Boccioni and so on, and I'm going, "Ha ha". That's like, not again, that complexity I'm looking for. I'm looking for introducing lots of subtle changes to and this is controversial with art historians I've talked to - perfect them. And here's news for you. Art historians, the Romans were not that great. They made a lot of errors. Donatello I'm working with them right now. Oh, my God. Formally and figuratively, they don't even make sense, legs kind of stop and then exit another point and I mean the Romans didn't carve the backside of the sleeping hermaphrodite's face, so I'm doing that. I'm trying to kind of take them to a place that those artists who did a fantastic job, especially given the technology that they had to work with in their time, I'm trying to take it to a place they would have gone in their dreams almost. I mean, the Boccioni that I work with "Unique Forms of Continuity in Space". Boccioni never had money to make a bronze in his lifetime. That one at MoMA is 20-something years posthumous. The one at the Met's a horror show made by the family of Marinetti, the rabble rouser of futurism. Bad fabrication. I mean, to me, that's an interesting thing. There's no real original because he never had time to make one. And I'm thinking the whole time of Boccioni, who was an amazing sculptor, would be considered the equal of Picasso and all the early 20th century sculptors if he had been able to realize his work in permanent materials. They all got lost and washed away. He got dragged to death by a horse in World War One, and they were kind of lost. And we only had a couple plasters. And so there's that weird exhumation thing that I'm doing, but I'm also picking subjects. I think they're a little less familiar. I didn't work with Michelangelo's Pieta in Rome. I worked with strange historical subjects that maybe are less well known. It gives me a little bit of room to run to get away from the stereotypes that accompany the more well known ones.

Craig: [00:52:09] So do you think you'll ever feel inclined to do something far more contemporary? So for example, I came across a video of you online visiting the Ferrari headquarters in Italy. Would you contemplate creating a Dino out of Rouge d'Roi?

Barry: [00:52:26] Well, not, not that one, but yeah. Flavio Manzoni, the design director there, it turns out like my work, and he invited me to come down. And it's this weird thing that my, you know, I didn't have many opportunities to be inspired visually as a kid, but we always took our vacations in Palm Springs at the off-season rates in the middle of August for like three days in a motel. It's like 120 degrees. And, you know, but the modernist architecture there and my first experience with an Italian car was there in the sixties when I was like 12 and changed my life. My assistants were saying after that visit, a couple went with me to the Ferrari factory it's like, "God, the same stuff you were saying there is what you say at the studio. I mean, don't let the line stop moving and there's the flat spot on it" and I'd like to imbibe that from Ferrari. So the fact that my work has of late had ancient historical sources is no indication of where my work is going. I started working with the Medardo Rosso project because the forms are on the verge of complete abstraction. I see that strain and the scholars rocks coming together and we have a big new development that we've been experimenting with for a long time now of blending multiple species of stone where I'll be painting with them and effectively painting with various colors and translucency. That's going to lead in a whole new way that may not even involve a scan at the at the at the base. So, you know, it's I keep saying I'm not one of those guys dressing up in the Civil War costume. Out you know historically reenacting. You I'm I'm I hope I'm in the middle of a critical enterprise here and don't mistake the ancient forms for some antiquarian endeavor.

Craig: [00:54:39] I don't know if you like people quoting your words back to you, Barry, but.

Barry: [00:54:44] Well, I don't know if. Okay. It depends on what you're going to quote.

Craig: [00:54:49] You know, it's from an artist talk. And I thought it kind of gets to a nugget of maybe who you are and I'm just going to read it here. It says, "I had a religious upbringing, a lot of right and wrong being true. This calling to be an artist wasn't about making presentations, making theater. It was about doing something really real and pursuing it to the maximum and inspiring people to work with me in that same way". And when I hear that, it sounds like at the core of your process and who you are are things like integrity in leadership, a commitment to excellence. And you really sound like a coach. What do you think?

Barry: [00:55:39] Well, it is important about to me, I can't do anything I do now without this incredible team. So I'm always wondering what inspires these people. I mean, probably most of them would like to be me or an artist having shows supporting himself off his art. And I always say short of that, I want it to be the best job you could have in the art world. So I built the new studio with a lot of thought to the the beauty of the spaces, the creature comforts. And we have barbecues and we've got locker rooms with showers. We've got health plans, we've got retirement plans. I mean, I'm trying to take care of these incredible people who work with me, but also inspire them because, again, on their budgets, they could never work with the materials and the processes that we're utilizing. They have never done something that took a thousand hours, let alone 10000 hours to make. And I'm always saying, you know, they'll look at in the end, I've got my name on it. That's how the art world works. We all know that this is a team effort here, and it's embarrassing for me to have people walk through my studio and say I all the time. In fact, dealers have corrected me. "Stop saying we". They want to market the great genius thing.

Barry: [00:57:12] So I'm always thinking what motivates these people? And I mean, I have really high goals for for art. I think of the gothic cathedrals. I think of Ghiberti Gates of paradise. I think of incredible superhuman efforts that yield these drop your drawers, unbelievable achievements. And I feel like I don't find that so much in the contemporary art world. So I'm really interested in that. I mean, my I played classical piano. My kids played with a very intense Russian teacher. I remember she didn't know me and my work, but she said to me about my kids, she goes, "You give me ten years and they can begin to have a creative thought". And, you know, and I'm going,"okay", and it's funny, I'm going, "and you're talking to me about that. I'm the guy who spent ten years teaching myself how to make things" and I'm like, I'm not worthy. I felt like saying, when I got to New York, I need to be worthy to compete with the greatest things ever made. I mean, that's a goal. I try to pass that on to people here. I have a well known contemporary art supporter. He's a really good guy, and he sent me a contemporary relief, which I thought was kind of insipid and by a super well-known artist.

Barry: [00:58:50] And he goes, "Barry, what do you think of this?" And I sent him back an image of Ghiberti's "Gates of Paradise", and he said to me, "Well, that's not fair". And I said, "Oh, the hell it isn't". I mean, isn't that supposed to be the goal to to do better than that, to at least be that good with a contemporary intent and content? I mean, to me, that that's that's what this is about. And I'll die trying. But I've got a I've got to inspire this group of people that work with me to go for it, and they work in a way I know different than they do on their own work. I've told them all, I never want to visit your apartment. I'm sure half of you live with a messy place, but you all, you all suck it up when you come here and work my way and the tools are all lined up. Tom Sachs calls it "knowing", you know, they're all you know, that's just to me satisfying as a whole picture of how you live your life and what you do. And so I hope that they take good things away from it, not just my team and think I'm just a nut.

Barry: [01:00:02] I think it's effective, but it is in my thoughts all the time about why do they kill themselves to make what they do, do what they do, for me. And I think I say, look, it's because of what we're making is going to live beyond us. And it's...we want to contribute to the culture the same way I have been powerfully affected by 500 year old, thousand year old, 2000 year old objects that were made with intensity and passion. We're trying to add to that. We're trying to that's how the US would be defined. We won't know Donald Trump. We won't know Joe Biden. We won't know much about all the particulars. I mean, those who know the Ghibellines and the Guelphs and all the details of Florentine society of the 15th and 16th century, they're specialists. I tend to know it because I'm nutty about that era. But I mean, does it matter? What matters is that things came together and some people produced for a period of 100-150 years there in Florence, some extraordinary leaps of human intellect and ability that have inspired everybody since that time. And I kind of feel like that should be the goal today still. So anyway.

Craig: [01:01:21] Your passion is obvious, Barry. So you have a show up right now at Mignoni Gallery in New York. "Cy Twombly - Barry X Ball: A History of Painting and Sculpture". What will people see there if they swing by in the next couple of months?

Barry: [01:01:42] Well, it's a small gallery. Fernando is well known for showing minimalist artists he's related in by his family, as has Elvira Gonzalez Gallery in Madrid. He's from Madrid, well known for minimalist masters and always beautiful booths at the fairs. And I like him as a guy a lot. And he and my dealer out of Milano, Paul McCabe, who's been all over I did shows with him in Stockholm and he's South African and he spent a lot of time in London and New York. They kind of actually independently came up with this idea, which to me made perfect sense. It's two American guys who, me and Cy Twombly, who may be the most influenced by the work of Italy. I mean, Twombly spent 50 years there. He basically escaped from New York and spent the rest of his life kind of almost in solitude in Italy. And I'm going there multiple times for my material, my scanning historical sculptures for the many shows I've had there. I have a lot of collectors and now fabricators, multiple fabricators in Italy I've connected with on metal, machine parts, furniture, components, stone, etc. It's an incredibly rich country. I mean, you know, it's not a new assessment there and it's just about how two guys who spent their life responding to that country and the art it produced kind of got to two different places, but there's a lot of linking elements in the show. So my works in the main gallery are from my Medardo Rosso project, inspired by the work of the late 19th early 20th century. Artist and Twombly's are all on the wall and we borrowed some really seminal works of his from the early fifties when he was in New York. And it's a bit poetic, the link. It's not 1-to-1 correspondences, but you have to see it is all I can say. It's an honor to be showing with his work. He was a great artist.

Craig: [01:04:11] And Barry, if folks wanted to keep track of you and your work and what the latest is, is that your website, is that the best place for people to keep track of your practice?

Barry: [01:04:23] There's a lot of things going on right now. The website. Yeah. Pretty good overview. There's actually, I have a social media guy. There's an Instagram feed that we post every day on what's going on at the studio. We had a 90-person Passover Seder here on Friday night and 50 people cooking and serving and truckloads of material coming in. It was a lot of fun with a well-known collector, a friend of mine, and that kind of stuff is visible. We are talking to several people on the NFT front that's going to be coming up. And then there's a variety of exhibitions in the cards. There' big one would be in Florence at several of the historical sites, the Donatello's I was talking about scanning, I will be exhibiting in Florence at places like the Baptistery and Palazzo Medici, the Palazzo Vecchi, etc. And then I had a show in Baku, a big one in the Zaha Hadid designed Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center there, Baku, Azerbaijan. We don't know with the war and how I feel about it, etc. that's a bit on hold. I mean, a lot of large commissions coming up that are fantastic. I mean, there's kind of a lot going on out there, so I guess it gets publicized, too.

Speaker1: [01:06:05] Well, it sounds like you stay busy, Barry. And even more reason for me to thank you for giving up an hour of your day to have a conversation with me. I really appreciate your generosity and it's been quite a pleasure talking to you about your journey and your work. And I can't wait to see more.

Barry: [01:06:24] Well, thank you. And again, I really appreciate you doing your homework.

Craig: [01:06:34] That's all the time we have for this week. You've been listening to Art Sense you can find the show on Apple Podcast, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher Radio, Spotify or your favorite podcast app. If you've enjoyed this podcast, be sure to subscribe. And while you're there, please rate the show and leave a quick review. Your feedback is the key to other folks finding us. And if you'd like to see images related to the conversation, read the transcript and find other bonus features. You can go to And click on the podcast tab. If you'd like to reach out to me, you can email me at Thanks for listening.

< Show Less