Concrete artist Barbara Liss has carried her memories of Chicago's great buildings, their ornamentation and architectural playfulness, into an art form which surprises and delights. Her fascination with the challenges of concrete as a medium of expression results in a collection of personalities—faces which are immortalized in both memory and as an art form. No two are alike.
Barbara enjoys meeting each of her creations as she sculpts them, names them and imagines qualities which make them welcome in one's home or garden.
Barbara owns and operates the Montana Bliss Artworks in Hamilton, home to her work, and that of other fine artists. Now, Barbara has created a new ARTspace for people to hold events, workshops, and meetings in a space designed for the arts—and of course decorated with beautiful artworks of various mediums.
101 S. 7th Hamilton, Montana Studio and gallery open 6 days a week 11:00 – 3:00, and by appointment
Your choice of artistic medium is unusual. What prompted your interest in concrete as a means of expression?
I spent 24 years creating a large garden including mortaring rocks and bricks in garden areas. I always have Portland cement in my garden shed and a pile of sand on the property. One fall day in 2015 I wanted to create art for my garden. I turned to what I had on hand and what I knew would weather well. There was no preplanning for that first piece which was very primitive. I show it in my studio as people enjoy seeing the evolution of my art.
We want to know more about the heads. Where does this inspiration come from?
I have always been drawn to the subject of faces in their simplest form. No color needed, because in statues, form reveals all. My exception is the eyes which are full color and realistic. The man in the moon and sun faces I have always appreciated. My choice to include many cultural faces is a result of my international travels and experiencing native people.
Many pieces are inspired by an item. A hat from the 1940s, antique gold rimmed glasses, an antique metal clamp, antlers, antique pieces of chain.
Then I decide how to relate these items to a person.
Please walk us through your process when creating with concrete.
Because I have to work fast and concrete starts curing immediately, I plan ahead what I am going to make and what will be incorporated in the piece. There is no time to look around when I am in the middle of creating a piece and my hands are covered in concrete. Yes, I wear tight fitting gloves. I have a variety of items at hand, as I am not so committed to a concept to not allow it to go another way.
You often refer to using your art in a garden, or in other outdoor venues. Why does that seem like an important way to display your work?
Concrete is so organic and blends so well with the outside environment. Tucked in with plants and hanging on trees, they add so much visual interest year round. I often call them friends along the trail because I enjoy seeing them in my garden and on woodland walks.
Your interior pieces allow for a bit more creativity. Tell us how the indoor and outdoor pieces differ.
I have made things with feathers since the 1970s so it’s no surprise they found their way into my sculptures. The Wild Rose Emu Ranch is in Hamilton. When I visited and saw the amazing emu feathers, I knew they would become an important addition. Feathers should not get wet so those pieces need indoor protection. Other items like seed necklaces and Spanish moss that add texture are enjoyed by wild animals so they are best kept indoors.
We understand that your brother writes a story about each head to accompany the piece. Can you explain that a bit further, and give us a brief example of this collaboration?
My brother lives in Colorado and has a gift for the written word. I post a picture and the name of the piece; he understands who they are and then takes it to the next step of further insight.
For instance, for my piece called Amazon Woman, Dan wrote that I
am an Amazon Woman and proud to live here. I love all the unique birds, fish, and wildlife we have here. They are beautiful creatures. We make our jewelry from them. Other people say we are primitive, but I prefer to say that we live a simple life and appreciate the beauty and the life all around us.
Obviously, your work is “one of a kind,” so that there are no “prints” or copies available. What do you think that adds to each piece?
Everyone who owns a piece owns the only one; it has a unique owner. I do create series, such as Going to Market and each piece is carrying something on their head, that celebrates the cultures. My Chain Reaction Series is a celebration of the unique linkage of chains. The Blessing from the Earth Series incorporates natural items, seeds, shells, antlers, etc., and is more tribal.
What are you working on now, and where do you see yourself going with your art over the next few years?
I love series in that they tell more of a story and continue my thoughts about a subject. I have acquired a collection of seashells from the Florida coast. That series is going to be called the Sounds of Silence so stay tuned.
Collaborations with other artists, including their art forms with mine, is very rewarding. Patty Franklin, a mosaic artist, and I are working on collaborative pieces. Coming soon.