Deborah Barlow: Blogger, Painter, Force of Nature

Deborah Barlow: Blogger, Painter, Force of Nature


Nearly a year since I started this blog.  Back then I was given help by a veteran blogger whom I told I would thank by posting about her blog.  Wrassled with it off and on, finally it took on shape.  So here it is with thanks.

At the time it hadn’t occurred to me that I have myriad other artist and noteworthy friends.   I can’t blog about each beloved one of you — even though you deserve it.  Lesson learned.

Do I rue writing this post?  Not a smidge — when you’ve got a basket crammed with picnic, spread the cloth.


 From Deborah Barlow’s series of photos about the artistry of snails on dewy glass by moonlight

While the light of a full moon illuminated the Pacific Ocean at 3AM, it also revealed the night time markings of a small gaggle of snails on the window glass where we were staying. Part Joan Mitchell, part Brice Marden and part Terry Winters, these moondanced masterpieces evaporate when the sun comes up. Luckily I awoke in time to catch the invertebrates in their own celebration of circularity before any trace of their magic was gone.                  D. Barlow on Slow Muse


She’s erudite, has the energy of a brace of oxen, and cares with the fierce heart of a muse about the arts.

Blogging – started early, kept growing

Barlow reads widely across disciplines and dives deeply.  You can go to her blog assured that she has winnowed out the bloviators and winkled out the juicy bits from writers who are real.  She also engages with the other arts — visual, musical, dramatic — at an intense pace that would fell me.

She maintains three different blogs, the main one being Slow Muse.   Its archives date back to late 2006 — here’s entry number one:

The Current Slow Muse Credo

What we need more of is slow art: art that holds time as a vase holds water: art that grows out of modes of perception and making whose skill and doggedness make you think and feel; art that isn’t merely sensational, that doesn’t get its message across in ten seconds, that isn’t falsely iconic, that hooks onto something deep-running in our natures. In a word, art that is the very opposite of mass media.

Robert Hughes

Another of Barlow’s Snail Painting photos

To savor her style, try comparing her recent post Embracing the Ephemeral (see the Snail Painters above) with one she wrote in 2011 — Martian Muse and Richard Tuttle.   Here’s her quote from Tuttle:

For someone to ask me what is beauty—I really don’t have any idea. Trying to do what it is I want to do, I think, eliminates, or tries to eliminate, beauty as much as possible. If it comes back or it happens naturally—the way you put a coffee cup on a table…. Beauty is somehow a trail you create through your work that’s left behind like a snail leaves its ooze. Where you’re going has absolutely nothing, nothing, nothing to do with beauty.

The ting of a silver bell sounds.  We hear.  Not that Barlow has no interest in beauty.  I searched the word on Slow Muse and got 49 hits into the listed posts (only back to 2010) before snagging on this doozy about Damien Hirst:

Gotta love Jonathan Jones at the Guardian. He’s calling it as he sees it.

Bad art is ugly art, in the end. Whatever language we might prefer to use, it all comes down to beauty and ugliness. Hirst’s ideas seemed to me once to possess an intellectual and emotional beauty – and their own physical beauty, too. Now everything he does is ugly, ugly, ugly, and it adds to the world’s already copious stores of junk. His paintings betray a stupidity and arrogance that makes me lose all interest in him. I love painting and I hate to see it abused.

But … I could probably kid myself otherwise, given time and a change of direction. That’s why I have decided to shun Hirst. He’s wasted so much of my time over the years. I freely admit that my determination to believe in him distorted my judgement. I won’t get fooled again.

I’ve got my personal list too, of artists whose works haven’t worn well over time—visual artists, writers, poets. Not that I have a need to broadcast it and focusing on what doesn’t satisfy. There are, after all, so many wonderful vista points in my aesthetic landscape. But I admire Jones for speaking his truth.                  Deborah Barlow on Slow Muse

 Amen brother, sister.

 A third of Barlow’s photos, titled Portrait of the Artist


She’s trekked Nepal and dips in and out of New York City like a carrier pigeon with a mail route.  Australia, India, London, Madrid.  She sniffs, she tastes, she asks, she pulls stories out of strangers.  Barlow writes about it all with style and wit.

Barlow’s other blogs:

•  The Slow Painting blog, Gleaning for meaning in art and life.  News reports of interest in the arts.   Recent: A More Methodical Van GoghHopi artifacts in Paris,  Impact of LED Light on Paintings.  A digest, a resource.

•  The Slow Painters blog, Art, deeply and slowly considered.  Showcases practicing artists, myself among them.


Painting — an essential in Barlow’s life


 Golawon, a painting by Deborah Barlow          via

My sense with Barlow’s paintings is that I’m not looking at them, I’m looking into them.  Falling into the same kind of space you dial through with a potent microscope.  It’s not my space, me standing in the laboratory twiddling knobs, but a space caught in a drop of liquid on a slide or between a glassy painting surface and a canvas.

For us big plodding human meats these are invisible realms available only through a lens.  The lens we look through here is our idea of paintings: they hang on a wall and we interact with an image — a face, a place, a maze.  Except these imagesless paintings are here to tempt you deep into the paint. There are bubbles, flecks, drifts and no signpost for scale.  As at the microscope, you have left your scale at the portal.

Pyrre, a painting by Deborah Barlow        via

In a studio visit I was introduced to the painter’s technique.  Colors get laid on the white canvas, texture builds up, bumps, crevices.  Then texture is taken down — sanded maybe?  So its Himalayas become eroded plains.  I was granted permission to finger this surface, the pigments’ tooth.  More layers then, lots of gel medium to retain visibility into the new world abuilding.  Additions, erosions, and at the very end clear layers smoothed to a glassy optic.  Your window and invitation into the no-image that paint can become.  This is not mark-making.

Sloycha 3, a painting by Deborah Barlow        via


 The human

Barlow with a familiar expression.       via her Google+ page

Barlow and I disagree on many points — books, artworks, the givens.  The art we make is as unlike as marigolds and chair legs.   This blogpost is a toast to the inimitable Deborah Barlow.


look further:

Deborah Barlow interview on Lynette Haggard Art Blog.  Lynette has interviewed some 80 artists about how they make their art, with pictures of them and their studios alongside samples of their art.  It’s a unique resource.  (Disclosure: Lynette is also a good friend.)


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