Barbara Houston’s creative practice is based in Bonavista, Newfoundland. Born in Saskatchewan Houston was influenced by Modernist Art on the Prairies and landscape painting as expression of place and belonging. From the Prairies to Parson’s School of Design in New York City, design to fine art; holding degrees in Environmental Studies and Architecture from the the University of Manitoba, she paused her award winning design firm based in Vancouver and studied Fine Arts at Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design. Returning to design and a myriad of other vocations, she gathered momentum, collecting skills and observations to create space and discover opportunity.
The catalyst to her creative practice was a cross country journey which found her in Newfoundland, moving to Bonavista in 2019 establishing BarbaraHouston ArtStudio and adjoining Gallery + SHEEPSHoP which highlights place based art, craft + design.
Houston designed her purpose built studio + home at 32 Ryan's Hill Road; winning a 'Design in Context' Southcott Award from the NLHistoric Trust in 2023.
She maintains a full time art practice in Bonavista, Newfoundland and can be found in her studio working daily.
My work evolves from an intimate connection to place and reflects a deep sense of discovering and knowing that place. Influenced and taught by the Modernist Prairie artists of the of the day, my connection to fine art was through the Mendel Art Gallery, private art collections and artists who taught me to see, to record and interpret the land and space around me.
Venturing from the Prairies to Parson's School of Design at the age of 18, the urban landscape of New York City and the world opened up to me a new way of seeing. NYC fostered a need to find oneself amidst the throngs of people, buildings and ideas and it began to solidify my drive to explore the ideas around belonging as it is rooted in place or places, personally and professionally.
Isolation in a city or in a landscape became inspirational for me. It taught me to draw from personal strength and focused on my ability to learn, to express and to be. Place holding and belonging became my focus.
In my formative years, the subject matter was the built environment, both interior and exterior space and how those spaces are sculpted to create a quietly visceral and very personal experience. The relationship between our interior spaces and exterior, our persona(s) and how those are presented to the world, how we are in this world, how we 'sit' in the landscape. So it came as no surprise that whether in Newfoundland or in the middle of NYC I am look for meaning and connection in my surroundings. Those visual conversations are my anchor, my creative practice, my home and my place is Bonavista, Newfoundland.
Trained in design + art to see inherent qualities, form, shape and line, etc, I constantly push and question fundamentals of design and composition to create a feeling that is evocative, and even innovative. In my current (and past) creative practices research, study and critical thinking reveal qualities that make up materials; raw Belgian linen, canvas, torrefied maple wood, paper, yupo, metal, kelp + sea grass - a new application, a new medium creates a new narrative, imbued wth meaning and an innovative approach to communicating meaning visually.
By exposing the beauty of the linen or cotton canvas, or the torrefied maple wood of the panels, zinc or stainless steel, I build on this 'foundation' to capture in acrylics or oil, archival inks or Japanese graphite, the place that surrounds me. The process and the conscious material choice creates subtle and delicate variations within each piece - the story telling begins.
Creating work in different scales encourages discovery and an evolution of technique and intent. Similarly I move from different coloured grounds, layers of tonal gessoes, white to dark neutral greys to pull out the image, graphite outlines my next step and is blended into the ground and the pigments. Repeatedly drawing over and creating layers of transparency and opaqueness.
The scale of my work begins to engage the viewer by allowing each person to select and create meaning in the marks, the colours and the overall content, in the conscious absence of paint or marks it asks the viewer to look closely, fill in the space with their own story, their own musing of memories of place. Small scale works are intimate and lyrical; larger works surround the viewer, creating place and place holding in a more physically expansive scale.
When my work is viewed as collective, it becomes an archive of the place I live, the stories shared, the people I know and meet, the place that sustains us.
My work is a very personal documentation of experience and observations of my life and work.
As an emerging artist Houston is grateful for Professional Program Grants through ArtsNL for the 'Mob of Kelp Sheep' (2018) and 'Verso Paintings'(2019). Houston is a member of Visual Arts Newfoundland Labrador (VANL), (http://www.carfac.ca) and greatly appreciates the work and voice of CARFAC. (Canadian Artists Representation)
Her works are in collections here at home in Newfoundland, across Canada, Europe and the USA.