The Barcelona Residency of Art aims to be the place where the resident can find his/her own artistic voice and can therefore make a living as a professional painter, sculptor or digital artist. The programme seeks to establish a community of figurative artists, thus strengthening the current trend towards contemporary realism, a movement led and supported by the European Museum of Modern Art [MEAM].

Bernat Barris is currently doing the Residency programme at the BAA and is also a support teacher for the Expressive Drawing class at the Academy.

Why did you decide to do this residency? What were you doing before?

I decided to do the residency because I was finding it impossible to work at home, I was doing very small drawings and I needed a space outside. I found out that it is possible to do the residency programme if you haven’t studied at the academy and I already knew Jordi and he was familiar my work and everything so I joined.  There are lots of reasons for joining the residency but at first I joined in order to paint outside my house and since then I’ve found that it is very interesting.

Before the residency I was working as a teacher in an art school and mostly drawing. I worked on landscapes, which is what I do now, but they were simple, small pieces in ink or biro. I hadn’t really considered being an artist as such, I felt like I was a teacher and I liked it a lot but now I’ve really got the ball rolling with the residency and I feel more like an artist.

Tell us about your current concept and ideas. What do you hope to achieve during the residency?

At the moment I’m working on landscapes. When I started I was not concerned about the concept, I just wanted to paint. Little by little as I was painting I realised that my landscapes were always about a specific area and from that I discovered that I do have a concept behind my work.

It all started with landscapes that combined nature and industry, a mix between the two without either one dominating. I started to create large landscapes from the area between Granollers and Barcelona. I’ve travelled between these two cities all of my life and the area between is an industrial area, a very specific type of landscape. It would be defined as a suburb of Barcelona but the landscape is not suburban. There is a lot of nature, a kind of nature that has a certain randomness with trees and weeds growing around. There are factories and other constructions that are also very symbolic for me as I’ve seen them a lot during my life and they have always caught my attention.

I represent this area and I think that really I am representing myself a while ago, when I used to do this journey a lot, and my view of my city, Granollers. I have seen each of these places many times and through my photos and paintings I am revisiting this journey. I paint areas that are not typically represented, for example the last one I did was of the view from the yard at my high school. The painting is of a ruined factory that is only ten minutes away from the centre of the city. Lots of the paintings are views from my train journey, but others like this one of the ruined factory are not, I went specifically to find some images.

It’s interesting that people from my area, from Granollers, see the pictures and think these places are mystical, magical. My friends from the area see my work and understand it. It’s very local and perhaps it is different for people from outside the area and I think I need to explain my work better.

Ultimately, the concept is related to the working class. It is an area that is quite industrial, working class and I also come from that kind of family and environment. I paint it with a lot of feeling… pride, affection, but also sometimes disgust, but a disgust that has affection, because in the end if they removed the ugly factories I wouldn’t like it, it’s a contradictory feeling. I don’t try and paint it in a dark way but I’m also not trying to idealise or glorify it, I paint it as it is.

What is your work process like?

At the start I investigated a bit, I tried painting from life and doing sketches but then I realized that I wasn’t capturing lots of things and that it was not necessary. I work from photographs so I go in search of a photograph and then I bring the photo to the studio. I take and print a lot of photographs and usually lots of them are bad and then I make a selection of good ones.

In this process I take great care with the composition, trying to make it work with effective weights and balances in the image. My compositions are not generally very classical, I don’t usually just have the factory in the middle, sometimes but not often. Then when I paint I try just to use the photo as a reference. Sometimes I work with the atmosphere that there is in the photograph but other times I have a clear idea of the atmosphere that I want even though it is not in the photograph and I also let memory play a part. I do try to look for the right atmosphere in my photographs, for example if I want it to be warmer then I’ll try and take the photograph during sunset but other times the photo suggests the atmosphere for me. The photos I’ve taken in winter and not the same as those taken in summer and sometimes I like this cold atmosphere, I like the diversity and capturing the landscape in different moments. On that note I’ve actually never used nighttime photos, which would be interesting to try.


How do you see your work before the residency compared to now?

My work really has changed a lot. I had hardly painted with oils before, I always used watercolour and ink so I’ve learnt a whole new medium. I already knew a lot about colour from working with watercolour and ink, my Fine Arts degree and what I had learnt on my own but I’ve learnt a lot more being here and being surrounded by other painters and teachers. I’ve also learnt to work from life and have been able to share experiences and questions. My work has changed dramatically, in fact the first paintings I did during the residency are now hidden or covered up.

What is the most unexpected or surprising thing that you’ve learnt or discovered while doing the residency?

Actually, until about a month ago I had never considered stopping teaching in order to dedicate myself fully to painting. This doesn’t mean that I’m going to or can do this but I thought about it, which I had never done before. I’d always considered myself a teacher, I teach and paint, but I arrived at a point where I thought maybe I could just paint. Now I consider myself a painter who also teaches.

What first inspired you to take up art?

I’m really not sure; it’s like a necessity. It’s something that I’ve always done and had to do. It’s true that I’ve always wanted to teach, but always art classes. I’ve always liked art a lot and work related to art. When I was 14 I already knew that I wanted to study Fine Art at university, it was very clear for me.

What contemporary painters do you look up to? And are there any classical painters you are inspired by?

I’m not very good with names, but I follow a lot of people on Instagram. There are lots of people there whose work I see and really admire but I not sure about their names. Sometimes someone recommends me someone great and then I realise that I’m already following them. I think Marc Dalessio paints very well for example.

Classical artists… in terms of landscape I really like Turner. He’s incredible, he paints very differently to me and I like it a lot. Then there are the Impressionists, I really like their way of working, like Monet. In terms of more classical painters who work with the human figure, which I’m not doing much at the moment, I like Velasquez and Goya. This summer I went to the Prado, I hadn’t been for ages and it was amazing.


Do you have any other key inspirations?

Actually, I had hardly listened to punk music before but to paint this series I thought I needed to make a list of Spanish punk music. I’m not exactly sure why but I think the factories and all that made me think of it. I started to research and made a long list. Punk is a movement that I didn’t live through, I’m a bit younger than the punk period in Spain but something about the landscapes reminded me of it… children of the middle class where there’s some kind of discontent. My painting also doesn’t make you think of punk immediately but there’s something of it behind it, something that made me look into it. It influences my way of painting.

Is there a random object that you always have in your studio?

Yes, actually I have a punch bag. It’s new but it will always be there now. When you’ve been punching the bag for a while, your hands start to tremble and then your drawing becomes more expressive. That’s not why I have it but it’s true that that happens. Actually it’s great for when you’ve got creative block. I did martial arts for a long time and I haven’t done it for while now but when I hung the punch bag it reminded me of that.

Bernat Barris

If you could own one painting what would it be?

I’m not sure which to say, but the last strong experience I had when I saw paintings was this summer when I went to the Prado. There were two paintings that had a real impact on me. One was by Rafael, it’s a small portrait of a Cardinal. It’s very simple but you could really see the expression, you really got an idea of who he was and it really impressed me. Then there was Velasquez’s Christ that really, really impressed me, it made my hairs stand on end. One is a portrait and the other is a religious painting so they have nothing to do with what I’m working on at the moment but I saw something in them, I’m not sure what exactly as it has no direct link to my work.

What are your plans for the future?

I haven’t got any really long term plans. In the short term I’d like to put this series that I’m working on somewhere where people can see it, in a way that I like. In a longer term, I’d like to earn some money from painting, which I don’t think is a bad thing.

In terms of my next plans for painting, I’m still not sure but I think the next series will be landscape too. I did a lot of work around the human figure in my arts degree but now I’m really enjoying landscapes.

See more of his work on Instragram @bernatbarris or

Interview: Eloise Gillow

Photos: Mira Karouta/Bernat Barris