Artist Feature: Shawn Barber


Shawn Barber is a multi-award winning, world famous oil painter and illustrator whose work has graced the cover of publications such as Rolling Stone, GQ, Wall Street Journal, and Maxim to name just a few.


His client list includes a whole host of billion dollar companies and his work is housed in private collections around the world. His paintings are exhibited at galleries across the country in both solo and group exhibitions and he has published two successful books containing his artwork.

Despite this overwhelming level of success, Shawn remains as one of the most humble artists working today and one that continues to challenge himself on a daily basis. During research for his hugely successful portrait series ‘Tattooed Portraits’ his exposure to the tattoo industry and its artists has led to a new progression in his career. Admitting that he gained a huge respect for tattooists whilst immortalizing them in his incredible paintings, Shawn has now set down the brush and easel and embarked on a new career as a tattoo artist in his own right.

Born in 1970 in Cortland, New York, Shawn has stated that he spent his youth in unsatisfying jobs that failed to challenge or motivate him. Finally at the age of 25 he said he decided to “get off my ass” and enrol at Cazenovia College, New York.  After graduating in 1997 he then attended The Ringling School of Art & Design, Sarasota, Florida, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. He claims that his success has not come without a huge amount of dedication and hard work and that the life of a freelance artist has been far from easy. After more than a decade of sacrifice, blood, sweat, and tears, Shawn is now at a place where he can choose which projects he would like to work on and still devotes most of his day to creating art in some form or another.

Shawn’s phenomenally successful ‘Tattooed Portraits’ series features unique portraits of some of the most well-known and respected tattoo artists in the industry . His distinctive brushwork and abstract vision portrays artists and tattooed individuals in dark and swirling backgrounds complete with paint dripping down the canvas. This energetic style lends a passion and darkness to his work that complements the raw and untamed aura of the subjects themselves. Hundreds of artists have had the honour of becoming one of Shawn’s masterpieces, and the paintings have been featured in scores of galleries and exhibitions. As well as his portrait series, Shawn has created a body of work based on his love for broken and discarded dolls. This disturbing yet hauntingly beautiful ‘Doll Series’ features macabre paintings of broken, mutilated dolls in various states of dismemberment. This dark and twisted theme that runs through his art has led to Shawn being invited to exhibit his paintings at fellow artist and friend Paul Booth 's  ‘Last Rites Gallery’ in New York.

After spending such a large part of his career in the company of tattoo artists it seemed a natural progression for Shawn to pick up the needle and begin inking his own tattoos. He began a part time apprenticeship in 2005 whilst still teaching art classes at various colleges in California until in 2007 he quit teaching to focus his energy on tattooing. An avid collector of body art himself, he received his first tattoo at the age of 16 and has steadily added to that collection along the way.

Shawn could be officially classed as a novice in the tattoo business due to the fact he only started to tattoo clients in January of 2008, but after checking out his portfolio it would be very hard to put him in that category. His tattoo work is as masterfully executed as his paintings and all display the same dark art tendencies he is known and loved for. His black and gray portrait of Steve Perry (above) has a painterly style to it and is evidence of Shawn’s rapid learning skills when it comes to tattoo techniques. The shading and tone used in the piece could easily have been done by an artist with years of experience working with the human skin and it is astonishing to consider just how quickly he has achieved this. Likewise, his impressive tattoo of a colourful skull on a client’s leg (below) is reminiscent of his ‘Doll Series’ and it is wonderful to see how his past work has influenced his tattooing.

Shawn is currently working out of his own private studio ‘
Memoir Tattoo ’, Los Angles, which he opened alongside fellow artist Kim Saigh. Tattoos are by appointment only. He also appears as a guest artist is several shops, including ‘ Incognito Tattoo ’ in Pasadena which currently takes walk in clients. As well as being blessed with an immense talent for the visual arts, Shawn’s website and blog reveal a further talent for motivational writing and self-improvement. Speaking from his own personal experience he urges readers that “Believing in what you do and doing what you want to do, creates opportunity and builds an empowering state of mind”. Judging by his successful career and ever-growing talent this philosophy is one that evidently works. Making the transition from fine artist to tattooist could not have been an easy task due to the technical limitations of tattooing. Nevertheless, Shawn has managed this leap in style and his humility and ambition are an inspiration to everyone, regardless of artistic ability.



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