CREATIVE SPOTLIGHT - valerie barnes: An artist can express an opinion in a myriad of ways and invite a dialogue that offers opportunity for possible solutions or awakenings.

1) Where were you raised? Can you paint a picture of your childhood?
I was born and raised in Natrona Heights, a town near Pittsburgh, PA.  My father was a blue collar worker and my mom was a stay at home mom.  My parents were very supportive and always encouraging.  I was never given the impression that I could not achieve anything I wanted to achieve.  My father once tried to get me on the boys’ little league baseball team because he thought I was a better 2nd baseman than any of the boys.  My parents never attempted to steer me in a specific career direction.  When I told them I wanted to go to university for music, they applauded the idea.  Can you imagine this?  I didn’t come to realize how forward thinking they were until later in life.  Though their parental roles were more traditional, I will always cherish and respect their decision to allow me to explore non-traditional outlets.  They were awesome!
2) Did you always create art as a kid, or did you come to it later in life?
I always dabbled in art which began when I first became fascinated with a guitar at the age of 7 or 8.  This led to studying music at Duquesne University, then gravitating to performance art (the reason I moved to New York) which then led to making films/videos.
3) Which artists have influenced your work? Why and how?
I’m influenced by a story and the tools used in telling that story.  This is why filmmakers such as Hitchcock, Wim Wenders, Lars Von Trier, Todd Haynes, the decade of 70’s filmmakers and Wes Anderson inspire and influence me.  Hitchcock using the tool of suspense which I don’t believe has yet been matched; Von Trier’s films but most importantly his formation of Dogma 95; Haynes whose early worked shined a light on people burdened by isolation and disillusionment, who were forced to conform and live in a society unwilling to accept their true selves; Anderson and his center framing technique that highlights his quirky and colorful characters and the 1970’s films shot in NYC that depict the grittier side of a city and it’s inhabitants.
Throw in sides of Vince Gilgan and Pixar Animations to round out this influential meal. Gilgan, in my opinion, wraps storytelling, cinematography, location, music, casting and character development into one beautiful package that when opened, reveals elements of suspense, humor, frailty, despair and darkness under the misleading idea of love and loyalty.  Pixar — masters in animation storytelling.
I don’t consciously think about these influences when creating a project but I am certain their influence sits in the subconscious waiting room sneaking out into my work in some way.
4) any other influences (people, places, ideas)?
Abandoned buildings or structures arouse my curiosity.  The idea that each building/structure had a life force, a heartbeat which fell into emptiness, neglect and ruin. What happened? Depressing economic times? Had its viability served its purpose or maybe it never met the expectation envisioned?   
I also am inspired by natural open spaces, nature’s gift of breathtaking backgrounds.  I began exploring this wonder when I filmed in Utah’s Salt Flats and will soon again when I film in Iceland.
5) tell me about your practice—how do you generate ideas, what medium do you use?
My interest is in collaboration and usually, an idea begins with an innocent conversation.  SKIN: A Meditation is a perfect example of this.  Julia Knight and I shared many conversations about our creative work before the idea of working together on a project came into light.   She wrote the subject matter and I filmed the visuals.  Together this journey has had many twists and turns that have taught us how to communicate, how to band together in the face of challenges, and how to be tenacious in accomplishing our goal.
6) is your art more concept-driven or image-driven?
More image-driven.  
7) why do you make the art you make?
I have a creative spirit that has been part of me since a very young age.  I don’t question why it is, I only know that it is.
8) does your art influence your life, and vice versa?
I am inspired by the environment that surrounds me and am curious about that which does not. 
9) what do you think about the notion "the lonely artist"? 
I don’t think about it.
10) does your art connect you to the world in some way, or does it help you navigate the world?
11) do you make art for yourself or other people?   
I make art because I love art.  I love art because it is a vehicle for engagement, exploration and learning. 
12) what purpose do you think art serves today?
Given the tense political, environmental and social climate today, the power of art can transform and accelerate thought when put out into the world.  An artist can express an opinion in a myriad of ways and invite a dialogue that offers opportunity for possible solutions or awakenings.   The world is on red alert and the artist can help quiet the storm by bringing people together under a roof of engaging discussion, exploration and learning.

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