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The artist

What is your career and your current job title? Painter, poet, manager of exquisite and exotic vacation rentals.

Describe in a sentence or two your art. An artist’s job is to have visions and put what they see on canvases and paper. Visions don’t have to be big, life-changing epiphanies – you can see the whole of humanity’s history etched in the face of an aged Mixtec flower vendor. Currently my passion and energy have been directed more toward painting than writing.

How long have you been working in this discipline? As long as I can remember.



Why do you do it? Someone told Toulouse-Lautrec that he could be a baron, and he replied, “Why would I do that when I can be a painter?”

What do you hope to accomplish? I’m just hoping to break even.




Do you create your art with an exact message you want the viewer to receive and if yes, what is that message? I painted a scene recently of a young Mexican family riding down the street on a Vespa – the young father with his wife behind him, side saddle, with their 2-year-old daughter in her arms. The little girl is holding a teddy bear in her arms. All of their eyes glitter with excitement. The message is ambiguous. From one viewpoint, the scene could be one of poverty and danger – three people on a bike, no safety helmets – from another it is a Mexican family proudly riding the family scooter to grandma’s for some tamales. I prefer to let the observer find his or her own message.

Where do you want to be with your art, in terms of part time versus full-time status, art positions and where your works are seen? One of the joys of living in Mexico is that art and artists are appreciated and have a place in society. I can afford to live here, and I sell my paintings at reasonable prices. I try to pay myself 10 bucks an hour. I have paintings in New York, Atlanta, Chapel Hill, Chicago, Manchester, Anchorage, Seattle and in various cities and villages in California. I’ve created a map with little pins stuck in places where my paintings are hanging, and our company slogan is “A Barbato in Every Living Room.”

What kind of special training did you take? Basically self-taught with influences of George Herriman; Walt Kelly; Allen Ginsberg; Walt Whitman; Chuck Jones; Jack Kerouac; Gary Snyder; Spike Jones; Charlie Parker; Buddha; Melville; Clemens; Rumi; Shakespeare; Dickinson; the Dylans, both Thomas and Bob; Ferlinghetti; Baudelaire; Burroughs; Buwkowski; Goya and the rest.

What’s your favorite part of your endeavors? Staring at a new canvas.

What’s your least favorite part of your endeavors? Staring at a new canvas and not seeing anything.

How many hours a day, or more appropriate, a week, do you spend on your work? I spend about 25 to 30 hours a week, about 20 hours painting and the rest marketing.

Do you consider it hard work and could anyone do it? I consider it hard play and I think everyone should have some creative outlet, just to keep tabs on who they are.

Any other comments you’d like to include? The poet Piri Thomas said flowers grow even in the ghetto. We are bombarded daily with images and messages of hate and fear. The elders here believed that the gods feed on our dreams and songs. Who knows, perhaps making music, writing poetry, painting and dancing will save us all. You can reach me at john@johnbarbato.com.

Editor’s note: A brief about Barbato’s art exhibition in Nevada City is elsewhere in the Prospector.


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