By Emma Castleberry. Praying Mantis. José Pablo Barreda, artist
Francisco Troconis and Gary Culbertson, owners of Contemporaneo Asheville, are embarking on a new project with wood sculptor José Pablo Barreda. “When we met him,” says Troconis of Barreda, “we saw not only great vision and craftsmanship but also an exploration of new ways to work with wood, treat it, incorporate movement and bring life to sculptures, like a young Frankenstein. The project involves the development, construction and assembly of life-sized wood sculptures with kinetic qualities. The pieces will be incorporated into Contemporaneo’s collection before they embark in an itinerant exhibit around the country and the Caribbean.”
A lifelong artist, Barreda took a somewhat roundabout path to his current career as a wood sculptor. As a child in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, Barreda was a passionate illustrator who frantically filled the sketchbooks given to him by his mother. “I got into comic books when I was very young and that took over my drawing practice,” he says. Barreda attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and studied illustration from 2011 to 2015. In his later university years, he decided to give sculpture a try. “I ventured out of a drawing for the first time to see if that same creative force could translate into other mediums that weren’t just two-dimensional,” he says.
That creative force translated so well that Barreda fell in love with a completely new medium: wood. “I’ve always been very drawn to wood,” he says, “not just as a medium, but as an essence. I’m drawn to the smell, texture, color. I find it fascinating that no one piece of wood is going to be the same as another, even if it’s from the same tree.” Barreda tries always to keep the wood’s grain visible in his sculptures.
After college, Barreda became an apprentice to a furniture maker in Chicago, where he learned the traditional assemblage techniques that still appear in his artwork. Barreda’s current body of work is a series called Chairismatic, in which he creates sculptures using every component of recycled wooden chairs. While the project with Contemporaneo will be entirely separate from his Chairismatic series, Barreda hopes to continue using recycled materials. “That’s part of my philosophy as a craftsman—working with something that already exists, rather than contributing to the creation of more.”
The project will combine Contemporaneo’s appreciation for kinetic art with Barreda’s love of nature. “I’ve always been fascinated with the versatility of movement in the animal kingdom,” Barreda says. “There are magnificent mechanisms that exist and have taken millions of years to perfect, so I’m going to be trying to mimic some of that.”
At 27, the sculptor looks forward to this project as a natural stepping stone in his artistic growth. “The previous sculptures I’ve built are stagnant,” he says. “They don’t move, yet they are portraying animals that have unique movements and unique qualities to their inner mechanisms. This is an opportunity to see how well I understand the mechanisms that I study, and it will be a challenge unlike any other.”
This article appeared in the June 2020 issue of The Laurel of Asheville.