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Shawn Barber Makes Us Want To Cover Ourselves in Tattoos

Painter, illustrator, and tattoo artist Shawn Barber's latest show, "Tattooed Portraits: Snapshots," opened last weekend at the Shooting Gallery. Shawn took some time to talk to us about his work, his inspiration, and his plans for the future.

7x7: I have no tattoos but I admire beautiful ink, and there's something about your paintings that makes me want to cover myself in tattoos. What draws you to ink as a subject?

Shawn Barber: The medium saturates everything that I do. Tattooing gives so much more than it takes. It allows an individual to acknowledge life with permanent markers. Getting tattooed is a leap of faith that reminds you of that exact time and place for the rest of your life.

7x7: Do you feel that tattoos are more personal art that sometimes happens to be publicly visible, or body art meant to be seen by an audience? Or both?

SB: I really believe that tattoos are for the individual.

7x7: Do you paint for yourself or for an audience?

SB: As far as my tattooed paintings, I'm having fun and documenting the world around me. It's a compulsion and a necessity.

7x7: It's sometimes easy to look back at your past work and feel slightly embarrassed by it, sort of like a regrettable tattoo. Tattoos, being permanent by nature, never go away. Are there works you've done that you wish you could take back?

SB: I've created over 1200 paintings in the last 13 years. The weakest pieces have nurtured my progress just as much as the strongest ones have. I'm consistently and consciously trying to learn from it all. I will say that I have had hundreds of illustrations that I've either cut up into pieces or thrown straight into the trash. And I don't regret it at all.

7x7: A lot of people say the best way to ruin something is to do it for a living, are there days you wish you didn't have to pick up a needle, a pen, or a paintbrush?

SB: I enjoy all of it, and am fortunate enough to get by by being creative. I work hard at what I do by choice and live a wealthy life of experience because of it.

7x7: What do you want people to see in "Tattooed Portraits: Snapshots" and take away from the show (aside from one of your paintings)?

SB: An appreciation of humanity from individuals who have chosen to make statements and decorate their bodies with art. To hopefully see progression in the overall body of work.

7x7: As someone who has taught his various crafts to young and aspiring artists, do you have any advice for new designers and artists trying to make a living with their work?

SB: Be humble. Don't copy your idols. Have an opinion and reflect through your art your own point of view. Understand that nothing is easy, especially making a living as an artist. Listen to individuals that know more than you. Appreciate the small successes. Defy the naysayers by killing them with kindness. Don't give up, ever.

7x7: Your versatility as an artist is really impressive. Do you do all of these things because you love teaching, painting, tattooing, commercial illustration, etc, or is it partly a matter of survival?

SB: I love it all. At times, some of it is a means to an end, but I have the luxury of working on my own terms more often than not.

7x7: What will you get into next?

SB: I'm pretty sure I've found my calling—painting, tattooing and teaching. That's more than enough to keep me busy and motivated.

7x7: Are there any artists who have inspired you to be so versatile?

SB: The artists' community in San Francisco has inspired me to work.

7x7: How long have you been in San Francisco now? Is it an inspiring enough place that you see yourself staying for a while?

SB: I've been here for 6 years. San Francisco has been, by far, the greatest city I've lived in. I am actually moving to Los Angeles in November to pursue private teaching, tattooing and painting and looking forward to the journey.