Barry Underwood, Artist and Photographer


There is something primal and essential in Barry Underwood’s motivation for creating his distinctive eco-artworks: “I enjoy being totally immersed in the landscape and in the process of making these sculptural forms,” he says.

That’s why he feels fortunate that he’s been able to continue to build and develop his artwork since he started college in 1986 and that he retains the same curiosity and creative drive he had back at Indiana University Northwest, where Underwood earned bachelor’s degrees in theater and photography.

He started out in theater, learning to act and build sets for plays. Out of curiosity, and a need to fulfill an elective course, he signed up for a photography class, “I took my first photo class, and I was hooked from the get-go,” he says.

Photography enabled him to be the director, the set designer, and the actor, if he so desired. He was able to employ all of the skills he had gained in the theater.

He went on to obtain his M.F.A. in Photography from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

Today, Underwood’s photographs, which combine his theatrical and photographic sensibilities, are shown in solo and group gallery exhibitions around the world, and owned by private collectors and museums.

Roughly 11 years ago, he developed his current approach to his art: creating visually striking and compelling constructions in a landscape, which he then photographs. He designs and builds these temporary installations in various natural settings, from deserts to woodland copses to sea­shores.

Underwood purposely works with materials that won’t harm the environment, such as paper forms that decompose quickly or materials he can recycle or reuse, such as batteries or LED lights.

He first explored this medium while teaching in northern Michigan and living in a cabin surrounded by 10 acres of woods. “I really responded to the wooded areas. They are visually complex, and there is a long history of fantasies and fairy tales taking place in these types of spaces,” he explains.

In fact, there are only two types of landscape he avoids: dangerous environments and private property. “I don’t want to deal with alligators or big, big snakes,” he says of the former, and of the latter: “I’m too old to get busted for tagging or trespassing.”

One way to avoid having to explain his work to police officers or park rangers is by obtaining artist-in-residence opportunities. Last year, he served as Artist in Residence at the Center for Land Use Interpretation: Wendover Residency Program in Wendover, Utah.

In 2009, Underwood was Artist in Residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts, Sausalito, California, and was nominated for the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Grant. In 2011 he was awarded a summer residency at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. “Meeting artists from around the world is a great networking tool for an artist and an instructor,” says Underwood, who is an associate professor and head of photography at the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA). “During these residencies, I go into isolation, remove myself from day to day activities and concerns, immersing myself into a creative thought process.”

But he also loves working in Cleveland, where he and his partner, Sarah Kabot, an artist who also teaches at CIA, share a studio in Little Italy. He believes the Northeast Ohio region offers a fertile environment for artists to find support and creative nourishment. “I’ve lived in San Francisco, Longmont, Colorado, Detroit, and Chicago, but nothing took root until I hit Cleveland,” says Barry Underwood. “It has been great to build my art career here.”

For more on the artist and his work visit

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 •