The Alchemy of Materials: Printmaker and Painter Jonathan Barcan

Artist Feature on Jonathan Barcan in Asterisk SF Magazine

At Workspace Studios off Folsom Street, visitors can expect a breathy climb up brick-colored stairs to a maze of artist studios. One of those studios belongs to artist Jonathan Barcan, who during a studio visit shared insights on his printmaking, drawing and painting practice. In looking at his work, it is easy to see the precision that goes into his etchings and prints as well as the experimentation and the unpredictability of materials in his drawings and paintings. Organic materials such as wine, spices, sand and metal form beautifully articulated lines and figures. Although his Master of Fine Arts from the State University of New York at Buffalo afforded him opportunities to exhibit work in Philadelphia, Beijing, Montreal, Toronto, and Florence, San Francisco is home.

Using physics, science, the natural world, and the notion of the human soul as inspirations for his art, Barcan has a highly meditative quality to his work. His prints serve as observations of and responses to our contemporary world, combining older technologies such as printmaking with more modern sciences and digital advances, all in an effort to identify people’s relationships to society and culture. As a longtime printmaker, Barcan works diligently toward understanding the unexpected nature of the craft and its medium. Working with acids and metal surfaces is no simple task, yet his works comprise natural lines, organic forms, and fluid motions that seem impossible to replicate. From colorful to monochromatic pieces, his work envelops the viewer in an imaginary space where words are unable to express the breadth of the human experience.

“We are clearly becoming other types of people because of the rapid rate of technological progression. We understand information and the substance of a person so much differently than we did 100 years ago,” says Barcan.

His specific visual language includes erratic, bold, non-tentative lines that aim at investigating human intricacies and understanding humanity at the intersections of art, technology, and science. Despite the depth of content, his images become familiar and accessible to the viewer. “It’s seductive,” he says of drawing. “It is so important for me to show the artist’s hand in my work. I like the messiness. When fingerprints and dirt on the paper show, there is a history. There’s also a tension in the drawings. I also like to observe people. For me, the drawings are the easiest way for me to communicate my observations. It’s immediate, in some ways. But the seductive quality comes from convincing people the work is immediate, but that’s not true. There is a lot of work and rework that takes time. The seductive part also comes from how people project how I make these things and me knowing the actuality of the creation.” His work is dynamic, connected and provocative. It inspires introspection in its dealings with the separation, integration and presence of the soul or the self within society and culture. With the swarm of interactive devices, data streams and codes that riddle our transactions, books, magazines and billboards, the artist and his physical work are rare but imperative. Despite the multiplicity of subjects in Barcan’s work, each is unique, much like the smudges and fingerprints of the artist’s hand. His work serves as a meditation, both on how we live and what we choose to leave behind.

Originally published and posted to Asterisk SF Magazine, please click here to view

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Author: Dorothy R. Santos

Dorothy R. Santos is a writer, editor, curator, and educator whose research areas and interests include new media and digital art, activism, artificial intelligence, networked culture, and biotechnology. Born and raised in San Francisco, California, she holds Bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of San Francisco, and received her Master’s degree in Visual and Critical Studies at the California College of the Arts. She is currently the managing editor for Hyphen magazine. Her work appears in art21, Art Practical, Daily Serving, Rhizome, Hyperallergic, and Public Art Dialogue. She has lectured and spoken at the De Young museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Stanford University, School of Visual Arts, and more. Her essay “Materiality to Machines: Manufacturing the Organic and Hypotheses for Future Imaginings,” has been published to The Routledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture in 2016. She serves as executive staff for the Bay Area Society for Art & Activism, board member for the SOMArts Cultural Center, and teaches at the University of California, Santa Cruz in the Digital Art and New Media department.

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