Barry Underwood, Artist and Photographer
2011 MID-CAREER AWARD FOR VISUAL ARTS
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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 barryunderwood.com.