INTERVIEW: Raymond J. Barry

Born on the Fourth of July, Dead Man Walking, The Deep End, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Training Day, Flubber, The Ref, The Chamber, COP, Falling Down, K-2, Rapid Fire, Cool Runnings, and Sudden Death are just some of the films featuring iconic performances by Raymond J. Barry. This weekend, the award-winning veteran thespian presents a vibrant world of “Butterflies, Words, and Colors,” a highly-anticipated, rare exhibit of Barry’s paintings. During time off from a demanding shooting schedule — Barry will next be seen alongside the all-star cast of Netflix’ controversial hit drama series, 13 Reasons Why when it returns for Season 3 later this Spring — Barry retreats to his favorite Los Angeles  hide-away, an East Hollywood art studio.

It is here that we spent some time with the theatre-trained actor (Barry is the winner of several Dramalogue Awards and an L.A. Drama Critics Award) and quickly realized that his passion for painting is not a hobby to pass the time and create content for his (non-existent) Instagram., Instead, Barry makes these paintings because he has to; they are autobiographical as a pure stream of conscious. Barry paints daily, without questioning why; he follows his instincts. The results are unadulterated truths; painting for the sake of painting, tapping into a deep well of emotions and his personal need to communicate his moment.

For anyone who watched Barry as “Arlo Givens” opposite Timothy Olyphant on FX’ acclaimed drama series, “Justified,” Barry has mastered the art of tapping into that well.

VENTS:  Your latest exhibit opens this weekend in L.A. – What inspired “Butterflies, Words and Colors?”

BARRY: My inspiration is derived from visual stimuli in my studio, in which I spend approximately eight hours each day; that is, when I’m not working in film, television or in a theatrical production. All day, every day, I am surrounded by the colors, shapes of paintings that cover every wall. The paintings range from five to seven feet high, so the studio is inundated with visual stimulation that continuously plays with my eyes. Butterflies are plainly beautiful, suggestive of flight, delicacy and transformation from caterpillar to a beautiful winged creature that attracts my sensibilities. Words from my writing books are layered on top of butterfly images. These words are personal, resourced from my private journals written weekly. Letters of the words become shapes filled with color and disguised. Since I write every day, it makes sense that I would include my writing into my paintings, as part of my daily experience.

VENTS: Describe the artistic process behind the pieces in this exhibit.

BARRY: Every day I paint. Every day I write, some time for four hours, long hand, which makes the process of writing physical and arduous. Painting is also physical but more fun, since creating them involves a certain sense of ‘play’. The paintings are large. I turn them upside down and sideways to make them work visually from every angle. I’m constantly moving when I paint. I am fully engaged. I add words on top of the images of butterflies or jars in my studio or anything else that may strike my eye. The letters of words become shapes to me or beautiful lines, to which I add color and embellish freely to suit my sensibilities in  that moment with the tools of line, form and color. I am fully engage and in love with the experience of creating a painting that embraces what I am experiencing both at the moment or in the past, as in the case with my writing that has been written in the past but projected upon the canvass in the present. My paintings are biographical in that sense.

VENTS: Where does your passion for painting originate?

BARRY: My family is composed partly of artists. My mother and my sister were skilled painters, and my grandfather, Richard Duffy, was a professional sculptor. Barbara Constance Barry, my mother, made it very clear, when I was a boy, that art was the most important involvement a person could commit to, an important lesson for a young child, as well as an unusual one. From a very young age, I showed artistic promise, both drawing and painting, and I had the good fortune to have attended a grade school that encouraged artistic talent in kids. Also, there has always been a personal confidence within me that I could draw well. Later, when I became the artistic director of my own theater company, called Quena Company, based in New York City, I returned her artistic support by inviting my mother to become a member of the company. I directed her in four plays, later got her an agent and she played roles in fifteen films, including ‘Trading Places’ with Eddie Murphy, in which she played a maid. Eventually she became David Letterman’s mother on his television show, so she became a bit of a celebrity in her neighborhood. She acted professionally from age sixty-one to age eighty-eight and died at age ninety-four. Her paintings still hang in my living room.

VENTS: Actor, Painter and Writer. Which defines you best and why?

BARRY: My identity, at this point of my life, seems mostly defined by my more visible acting career, which has spanned six decades and highlighted by films such as, ‘Born on the Fourth of July’, ‘Dead Man Walking’, ‘Interview with the Assassin’, ‘The Ref’, ‘Falling Down’, ‘Walk Hard’ and some fifty more films, as well as the television shows ‘Justified’, in which I did the recurring role of ‘Arlo’ for five years, ‘Ice’, ‘NCIS’, ‘Gotham’, ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’, and some dozens others. I’ve also published an anthology of my plays called ‘Mother’s Son and other Plays’, short stories, and essays in addition to a memoir entitled ‘Never a Viable Alternative’, five chapters of which have also been published in various literary reviews such as ‘Florida Review’, which also put my artwork on both their front and back covers, along with two chapters of my memoir and an interview. Other literary reviews that have published my work are ‘Straylight’, ‘New Orphic Review, ‘The Storyteller’, ‘Caveat Lector’, among others.

VENTS: Tell us about your character on the show, ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ and what we can look forward to.

BARRY: The character I play on ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ is the role of the grandfather, who is the source of the severe dysfunctionality of the parents and aberrant children that composes the featured family unit of the series. The character I play is cruel, inconsiderate and a dominant father figure, from whom is inherited a lack of spiritual values so sorely needed within the family unit.

VENTS: You appear to be living your best life – Are we witnessing the Renaissance of Raymond J. Barry?

BARRY: Interesting question. As I think about it, I seem to be constantly redefining myself through the use of three media, acting, writing, and painting. When one medium is not particularly productive, I involve myself in another medium, equally rewarding. When I’m not acting, I write a play. When I’m not writing a play or an essay or a short story, I paint. It all works, and I’m always busy expressing the essence of who I am. I’ve recently turned eighty. It’s been a good life. I’ve been busy creating, thinking thoughts and writing them down, acting roles, rendering paint upon canvass, raising four children. The sum total of my life has burrowed into the kernel of my essence, my thoughts, my feelings, my sensibilities of who I am at any given moment in a world that otherwise would have been reduced to making the all-mighty buck. I never reduced myself to that level of thinking and preferred to aim at making beauty.

VENTS: What is the best piece of advice you were given that has stuck with you?

BARRY: My mother made it clear that creativity is the single most important value in life, not money, not fame, not the mundane. Beauty, in all its forms, surpasses all.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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