A Shawn “Barney” Barron Art Show
The late Shawn “Barney” Barron was truly the clown jester of the Santa Cruz surf scene. His antics, in and out of the water were over the top, to say the least. Everyone who knew or were exposed to him has at least one bizarre, yet hilarious anecdote to illustrate this.
For example, about fifteen years ago I was surfing Pleasure Point during a fun south swell. I saw a black truck pull up to the Cliffside, and out emerged Barron, already clad in his fluorescent Hotline wetsuit. With the car still running and his dog in the camper shell he proceeded to scale his way down the sheer cliff, apparently disinterested in the preferred Billy goat trail that existed before the sea wall.
He paddled out, singing loudly, caught one wave to the beach and scaled the same sketchy cliff route he’d taken to get down. He jumped in the idling truck and took off. Everyone in the lineup just shook their head and burst out in laughter.
This is Barron in a nutshell. Impulsive, outrageous, and unbelievably amusing. He devoted his life to entertaining others with his brand of hard charging and explosive aerial surfing. As a poster boy for Volcom, he was able to travel the world, scoring magazine covers and prominent roles in heaps of surf films. While many have seen his comic book inspired wetsuits and brightly painted surfboards, other than the people close to him, the vast majority of his fans are unaware just how much of a creative genius he was.
This Friday, at 6PM at the R.Blitzer Gallery, a mind boggling collection of his art will be on display in an art show/tribute called, “The HeART of Barney”. Along with live music by Ribsy’s Nickel, and Ono grinds from Pono Hawaiian Grill, this show is a true grassroots community event to honor the treasure trove of Barron’s amazingly expressive and eclectic artwork. There will also be prints of Shawn’s paintings available for sale, along with other goodies.
As a child, Barron was fueled by boundless energy that made it hard for him to sit still during school. Despite a lack of engagement in traditional schooling, he had an extremely active mind and imagination.
“Early on he was inspired by the world of space and science fiction by our father (Shawn’s stepfather, John Coulter),” remembers his step-sister Amelia Coulter. “He would take my brother up to Berkley to little known theaters to watch strange Sci-Fi films. Shawn ate it up. They both had a love for toys and all things unusual”.
Barron was always a standout surfer but it wasn’t until high school when his art teacher, neighbor, and family friend Katie Harper saw the potential for creative genius when he took her classes.
“We had a lot of fun,” remembers Harper, “We played around and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get super traditional stuff out of him so I just tried to guide him in his areas of strength– which was spontaneous, energetic, and colorful. His art was textural, very tactile; not too abstract like other abstract artists, but very playful. He was a playful kid. Because of that, I realized that he wasn’t going to let this go, like, “Oh I’m going to take this art class and be done with it”. I realized that he was really an artist. Truly an art spirit. A young art spirit and it was just a matter of time before he locked on and used it for his life, the way he navigated his life.”
Art became a sanctuary for Barron, who had struggles with bi-polar disorder. Like surfing, it was a way to express the explosive energy that was constantly simmering in his imagination, as well as the reflective and painful lows. As Shawn became more prolific, this became more and more apparent to Harper.
“He used it (art) as a therapy, as a playful medium, an exploration, as an adventure”.
Barron’s art was very impulsive and diverse. One day he would be working on an oil painting of UFO’s, and the next he would be using physical objects as a medium, like the infamous “Trophy Man”.
“In going through his work you can see really distinct phases,” recalls Coulter. “In the late 90s/ early 00’s he had a really intense creative period where a lot of his work seemed more pop in color and style. He then got really into body molds, landscapes, abstracts, lots of dots and circles, and of course, girls. He painted canvases so many times I don’t know how the paint ever really dried. Prior to his death he went through another really pretty creative phase, with a much softer tone, yet still bright with tons of color and subtle shapes… He was mourning the death of our mother and to me, you can see some this in his work. They were extremely close.”
Now the public has a chance to appreciate the massive collection of art that he created. It’s a chance to honor a very conflicted, yet beautiful soul. I can attest to this gentle spirit. As a grom growing up on the EastSide, I was scared to death of the older Westside guys; yet Barron was always very approachable and kind to me. It was this “Allsides” mind frame that made him a favorite for local surfers across town; hell, across the globe. I like to think that Barron’s creative and sensitive soul has found a comfortable place in the universal soup of energy that we refer to as the universe.
Harper sums up Barron’s stay on this earth quite simply.
“Shawn was just one of those people who wasn’t going to be stuck in a box and to conform, and more power to him! He was a wonderful spirit. He was a gentle man”
I hope to see you all this Friday at this once in a lifetime event, which is orchestrated with love by Coulter, Sandbar Brenna, FleaHab, Nate Weinstein, and Patrick Trefz.