A digital archive of Asian/Asian American contemporary art history

Barnes, Toby

Artist Website

"Making art to me is the single activity that most allows me to define myself. Growing up Asian American accustomed me at an early age to be open to different experiences. I feel moved when creating artwork that reflects and captures my sensibilities that come from my dual background.

My work often appropriates iconography and symbolism from South and Southeast Asia within a contemporary context. The heroes, villains, and magical animals found in South Asian mythology are archetypes I at times identify with. As a child I can recall my mother telling stories, in Thai, about the Ramayana Epic. These stories taught me about virtues such as humility and the 'right effort'. In addition they stimulated my imagination. The dynamics of the archetypes such as Rama and his rival Ravanah indicated the struggles between two opposing forces. These experiences, of my mother telling me stories, reflect my artistic intentions. I like to think my path as an artist is symbolized by the elephant. A diligent worker with a humble and gentle persona, I create work that embodies the elephant's auspicious nature. The physical process in creating my work is the expression of my existence. This struggle for expressing my identity I found was like the struggle that occurs in the strife of making art. Moreover, not only the style and subject matter was a hybrid of two cultural influences, but also the application of mediums became an expression of my cultural duality. Life and art taught me that the only thing constant in this physical world is change. This realization like an elephant gave me the courage to accept and remove any obstacle that obstructed my path towards harmony. Moreover, with the continuation of my work I hope to contribute to the world by my artistic creating. At the same time, by creating a new interpretation, I will enforce the value of the traditional. For unlike the radical contemporary Avant-garde who wanted to do away with the traditional, I have a relationship with both the old and the new."

Toby Barnes, Artist Statement

Gallery of Selected Works