For over a decade, James Barber did experimental art as a form of self expression. As of a few months ago, he began making intricate, hydrocal plaster bowls that are both beautiful and functional. While function is somewhat new to James (he used to make masks out of grapefruit skin) he is already coming into his own as a designer making reliable, unique pieces for the home.
On getting started
I've been a sculptor for a really long time, but most of what I've done to date has been motivated by self expression and personal interest. I've been doing all kinds of fabrication throughout the years, working in wood and metal shops to pay the bills while continuing my own artistic practice. My recent artwork has mostly been bizarre masks that explore themes of identity and fantasy. I wanted to try something new and push myself as a maker. YES PLS is an outlet for me to explore design and function. The "tripod" was one of the first products I made for YESP PLS. When I took it out of the mold I was like, "Ok. More of this."
On his Bed Stuy studio
My studio epitomizes New York. It's at this cross section of where Bed Stuy is being gentrified, like the Williamsburg affect, where bars and restaurants have started creeping in. There are a ton of apartments that are getting more and more expensive. But you also have old families that have lived here forever, and the black community which has been present for years and years. You also have the Marcy projects, where there's a ton of poverty and violence. And then the Hassidic community. There's a Hassidic girls school right outside my window. There is a sense of mystery to all of these micro-communities. It's this beautiful melting pot that I find fascinating.
On making masks
I've made masks out of so many different materials. I still make them. I just finished a latex gorilla mask for a movie. One of my first mask projects was a lizard mask for an art installation in Minneapolis. We made a baby's nursery in this creepy basement, and when people went into the room, they found that the baby had been eaten by these lizard creatures that came out of the walls. It was so scary it made two separate ladies pee their pants. The scales on that mask were made up of tiny little balls of clay. I used that same technique to create the reptilian texture on a lot of my YES PLS products.
On transitioning to houseware
So now there's this whole other world. Making these functional pieces is a new frontier. I liked the idea of creating a sculpture that's only half-finished. People can introduce a plant or whatever they want into the tripods, and it totally changes the piece. I like that people can fill the tripod with whatever and give it a new identity. The plants are great because it's a living contribution to the piece. Like a collaboration almost.
On making things people love
I ask myself, "What can I create that people will enjoy bringing into their home?" It's been a healthy transition to shift my creative energies off of myself and put them on everybody else. I'm from the Midwest, so I'm not one to toot my own horn. But y'know, I think people like my stuff! I've only been doing this for about three months now, and I'm still figuring it out as I go along. But I'm here in the twilight zone of Brooklyn and it's awesome, and I have this beautiful studio that anchors everything I'm doing. I'm learning a ton and I'm psyched to see where it goes!