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Art & Life with Deborah Baronas

Today we’d like to introduce you to Deborah Baronas.

Deborah, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I studied textile design and painting at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Based on my own work experience and family heritage, I explore the condition of the American worker and landscape.

I worked as a textile designer and creative director in the textile industry in New York City, Los Angeles, and Europe, working with designers and fabric manufacturers in global fashion centers.

As as a result of the textile industry moving offshore and mills closing, I began a visual documentation of the history of that industry. This led to studies of other industries, workers and communities.

I design site-specific installations that produce interactive environments with scrims, paintings, video, music, and photography. My work is based on personal interviews, portraits of my subjects and archival materials.

I live and work as a design consultant and fine artist in Rhode Island.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
I make artwork about work—the American workers, past and present, who are the bedrock of our diverse culture. Whether the subjects are mill workers, farmers, domestic servants, fishermen, or soldiers and veterans, whether they were American born, immigrants, or enslaved, the focus remains the same: to capture their spirit, tenacity, and hope.

My work is also about the passage of time and the challenge of moving through changing circumstances without losing touch with our heritage. As a textile designer who sawmills close and the textile industry move offshore, I felt compelled to visually document this important American industry. The resulting exhibit was deeply personal, but the response to it confirmed my belief that the interaction between art and history can speak to people on many levels.

The artwork depicts the fabric of workers’ everyday lives—their daily routines, work environment, and restorative recreation. I use multiple layers to create a sense of depth, space, time, and movement. Etched glass and translucent fabric panels, stenciled and silkscreened, cast shadows on paintings and drawings. As viewers move through the exhibits, the patterns and colors shift, animating the figures and transforming the light.

I create work for public spaces and for all the people who use them. Through my artwork, I aim to inspire conversation about our changing workforce and economy, as well as the values that remain constant.

The work is also designed to evoke a personal, private response. Storytelling is central, but the tales are suggested rather than detailed. I believe this ambiguity allows people to connect with the work on a deeply personal level. Some people get a sense of stepping back in time to inhabit a distant moment, other see the ghosts of what was. For some, the work evokes family stories and a sense of connection to their heritage. It’s my hope that others will see the past as prologue, and find inspiration to go forward with hope and determination.

Artists rarely, if ever pursue art for the money. Nonetheless, we all have bills and responsibilities and many aspiring artists are discouraged from pursuing art due to financial reasons. Any advice or thoughts you’d like to share with prospective artists?
After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design, I worked in the textile industry in New York City, Los Angeles, and Europe that provided a financially stable income.

When I left the industry, I worked as a design consultant and freelance artist.

Currently, I seek out commissions and public art projects that provide financial support for the creation and fabrication of my artwork. For many years I did not make money from the art.

It is a challenge to make a living as a fine artist, most artists have other means of making money in order to support the lifestyle.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
My website hosts most of my work, past, and current.

I have permanent installations at Roger Williams University, Providence, RI, the newly constructed Veterans Home in Bristol RI, and The Museum of Work& Culture in Woonsocket, RI.

Most of my exhibitions are at museums, galleries and historic venues that are up for specific periods of time.

Upcoming shows and events are listed on my website.

People are welcome to visit my studio in Warren, RI by appointment.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Aaron Usher, Greg Spiess

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