Liam Barr emigrated from Scotland to New Zealand with his family in 1974. He grew up in Banks Peninsula before travelling overseas and settling in Perth, Western Australia where he trained and worked as graphic designer. He ran his practice out of Fremantle until 2000 when he turned his attention toward his family and professional art practice aspirations.
After 18 years overseas and a desire to reconnect, Barr returned to New Zealand in 2004 and launched into a series of works to be known as ‘Hei Tiki – Hi Mate’ (2007) which explored the concepts of taonga, spirit, lore and legend. Whilst Barr considers the hei tiki as a proud and accepted avatar of tangata whenua, he also acknowledges its popularity as an icon for the wider community of New Zealanders.
Pop culture references to Barr’s childhood are evident and European icons merge cohesively with traditional culture. Irony, satire and playfulness are used to magnify and perhaps draw a long bow to the duality of cultures. This in turn conveys a central and continuing theme of Barr’s work, where symbolism reflects an aura of pathos, displacement and insight into contemporary New Zealand.
Barr’s current practice continues its search to define the New Zealand experience expressed in a series of narrative paintings depicting stories of whalers, sailors and early pioneering visitors to this land. Barr says that his images draw reference from the fictitious to the subjectively factual, weaving stories punctuated with symbolism and iconography to lay bare the stoicism and foibles of a fledgling colonial psyche rapidly assembling through historical events.
Whilst referencing a mood of nineteenth and early twentieth century artworks, Barr’s paintings reinterpret and imbue the romantic essence of the historical context in a contemporary fashion, offering an altogether alternative view. Once again, irony and satire are employed to embellish and dramatise the narrative whilst the richness and subtlety of the ‘fine art oil painter’ draws us in to the atmosphere of the era, complete with moody landscapes and deep dark timber frames.
Liam currently lives in Wellington with his wife and daughter and paints full time. (bio)
Thanks to MF for finding this artist!