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I never thought to be a painter. I was neither interested in painting nor in art in general until the age of 38. At that point, and while viewing my scribblings with our little kids, my wife insisted I should try my hand as a painter. Naturally I resisted, so she suggested that at the least I deserved a short workshop to examine if her hunch about my new virtue was right.


My first encounter with art was in front of a still life monument, a pair of oranges, a monochrome towel and a branch with two dying leaves. I was bored to death, as I was the next day and the day after that. It became a struggle to remain in the same course for the next three months, just to conclude that it really wasn’t for me. At right about that same time, and under a very strange set of circumstances, I met with Shlomo Tzafrir, an old Israeli master, who went on to become my mentor for the next seven years.


In his spartan studio in the 9000 year old city of Jaffa I started learning the basics of drawing. For the first year I worked only with pencil, the second year only charcoal and sanguine, then went on to the basics of proportion and figurative drawing. Tzafrir had huge artistic knowledge and a fierce bad temper to match so with his big and caring heart he could one moment throw paints and brushes at me and a few minutes later he’d cry when one of my lines finally turned out right. From the very early stage of our studies I confided in Tzafrir that my passion was in deep space and that I dream about painting stars and galaxies, to that he replied:


'A blind man can feel the sun’s warmth and light but he could never visualize the sun, first he has to open his eyes and simply see.'


Tzafrir continued to consider me a blind man until the day he dramatically announced that it was about time I chose a starry object. The first and last deep space painting I made with Shlomo Tzafrir was the Eagle Nebula pillars, one of the most famous images sent to Earth by the Hubble telescope. A few months later, my master died and before he collapsed he told me:


'The fingers that hold the brush are but a tool, it’s the soul anguish to be expressed that makes your hand move, just try not to interfere.'


After the Shiva (week-long mourning period in the Jewish religion) I started to paint my own galaxies using oil colors on canvas until a friend taught me that in art there is benefit from usage of ingredients that repel each other like water and oil. My first water-oil deep space paintings were made in 2004. Then another teacher introduced the use of tar. I used only tar in the first tar paintings when one day a can of red acrylic color fell on my fresh tar canvas. The mixture looked disgusting; it seemed like the red acrylic was floating and pushing the brownish tar so that the red turned a darker shade and in part disappeared. The next day I saw the red acrylic form bubbles in the tar, so I decided to make an experiment which later turned out to be the basis of my multi-layered tar technique.


First I spread the red acrylic on the canvas and then poured tar. The tar seemed too heavy so I diluted it with turpentine. It turned out looking like a very strange mixture, nothing I saw before, so I put everything aside, bought quantities of canvas and began my experiments of tar-acrylic relations and combinations. The more I diluted the tar the more inspired I became. I saw strange enigmatic black spreads of dark tar floating within the moving acrylic. Acrylic dries very fast, tar very slowly, so the canvas continues to work while those two aspects interweave. In one of my experiments I ran out of canvases so decided to sacrifice an old acrylic-oil canvas. I then poured bright yellow acrylic with diluted tar.  I planned to experiment more that day, but then there was an accident near my home. I ran to the street to see if I could help, it was nothing serious, but I met my neighbor and my mind was distracted. I didn’t come back to my painting that day, but the next day when I saw the result, I was so excited that I worked all day long. I found out that the first acrylic-oil level could be seen as the basis of the new tar-acrylic level, so I took some more of my first acrylic-oil canvases and added tar-acrylic layers. Then I thought why not make another acrylic-oil level on top of the second tar-acrylic level so I prepared an oil can and acrylic can, and while thinking of pouring them together a bit of oil was split on a tar spot. The two ingredients had a tremendous interaction. Both the oil colors and tar diluted with turpentine and merged with unexpected residual forms. From this my multi- layered tar technique started.


Now I had oil-acrylic-tar mixtures in every level. I tried to return to my original passion, deep space, but I found out that this technique is too dispersed and I can’t manipulate the colors to the galactic shapes I wanted. At this period we renovated our house. I helped the handy man to straighten the walls. We used gypsum plaster and a trowel. I loved working with those materials. Because my studio was on the roof where all the building materials where stored, when I started work the next day I mixed a bit of plaster in water and with the trowel engraved the outlines of the spiral galaxy shape. I was so amazed by this new tool that I ran to the nearest building store and bought a bunch of trowels, narrow, wide, long short, elliptic, rectangular, this was the gypsum plaster-spatula period. I used more and more canvases shaping on them wide varieties of forms and images. I came back to my figurative period and shaped human faces, human organs, cats and elephants with all kinds of plaster, from very soft and diluted with a lot of water to solid rock with special plaster glue added.


The end of our home renovation marked the end of the gypsum plaster–trowel era. All that what was left for me to do was to renovate our furniture with lacquer, but I kept delaying it.


On one of my first gypsum plaster-trowel canvases, in which I shaped a spiral galaxy, I started to pore the acrylic-oil-tar layers. Something went wrong with this canvas, the colors and shaped didn’t merge. I left this canvas for a couple of days then returned to it for another level that made it even worse. I decided that this canvas would become the basis for a totally new painting in the future.


Finally, I could no longer resist my wife's complaints about the old furniture that awaited a new coat of lacquer. I started to paint all our old furniture then I discovered that there are colorful transparent lacquers, so I did my first experiments on my furniture. When I decided to try the green lacquer I was just about to finish my red lacquer. I had about a fifth of a can of red lacquer diluted with turpentine. I needed the can for the green lacquer (because I used only a small amount of lacquer) so I poured it on the unsatisfying canvas that waited to be erased. The result was stunning. The transparent red lacquer gave a feeling of a whole new dimension, like gluing all the ingredients together. Suddenly it became one of my best paintings.


Now it was the time to join all those ingredients in a coherent technique.


The basis is gypsum plaster (water diluted building material) shaped images.  

The colors are stirred only on the canvas. I use chop sticks in order to move the colors on the canvas. The whole painting is constructed from layers. Each layer contains: tar and turpentine, acrylic and water, oil colors and turpentine. In some layers I use lacquer, sometimes water based, most of the time oil based. Lacquer is always used in the final coating of every painting.


Because of the unexpected shapes and forms in this technique I use, as a final level, white acrylic color and with a trowel I again shape the original image by covering unplanned spills.


From 2009 I started to deliver the Free the Life within You workshop around the world. The FLY workshop has to do with the ‘oops’ that make our lives so interesting and full of magic


Have magic in your life


Ted Barr





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