2 Libby Barbee artworks

3-D Demo Studio Artist Libby Barbee

Libby Barbee will be in the 3-D Studio demonstrating cut paper topographies June 30-July1.

I like working with cut paper because it is very forgiving and yet has a sense of fragility and ephemerality.

– Libby Barbee

Olivia Davies: What will your demonstration at the DAM look like? What can visitors expect?

Libby Barbee: Over the next few months, I will be working on a commissioned work for the Gates Family Foundation in downtown Denver. For this particular piece, I will be focusing on the ecology of Southeastern Colorado and looking at environmental data to inform the piece. During my time at the Denver Art Museum, I will be finishing up the piece. While I am in the 3-D Studio, I will be demonstrating the process that I use to construct layered cut paper artworks.

OD: What originally inspired you to use cut paper to create low-relief artwork?

LB: I originally started using cut paper back in graduate school as a way to represent the relationship between human populations and population levels of particular species in certain habitats. The window-like effect of layered cut paper allowed me to represent multiple data sets while playing with the way that information was hidden or revealed. Since that project, my use of cut paper has expanded. I like working with cut paper because it is very forgiving and yet has a sense of fragility and ephemerality.

OD: How do your own experiences with environment and place influence your artistic practice?

LB: I grew up in rural Southeastern Colorado and spent a lot of time outdoors as a kid. I thought I was going to be a veterinarian or biologist until my freshman year of college, when I suddenly discovered that by being an artist I could study and explore whatever I wanted to. However, I didn’t really tie my art practice to my love for the outdoors until I moved back East for graduate school. It was there that I realized just how unique and important the American West is, both in terms of landscape and experience, and turned my practice towards that subject.

OD: A theme throughout your work seems to be the interaction of art and science. What does this interaction mean to you?

LB: I think that at the most basic level, what I am exploring through my work is the relationship between humans and the natural world; and more specifically, the role of American frontier myth in the way that Americans understand themselves and their landscape.

That being said, science comes up a lot in my work. I am sure that part of this is simply because science, like art, is a dominant lens through which we understand the world. I think that another reason for the prevalence of science in my work is that (post-Columbian) America was born out of and matured alongside modern science. New scientific technologies have always colored the narrative of America, and these narratives have shifted as science has changed. We often think of science as static and holding an ultimate truth. But when you look at American history, you can be very easily startled by some of the crazy beliefs Americans have held in the name of science. I have always loved science. It is the best tool we have for understanding the world. However, I think that it is also important that we understand it as a lens, and keep in mind that the lens can change.

The Strength of Stones and Dwindle with Binoculars. Photos courtesy of Libby Barbee.

Olivia Davies was a studio and artist programs intern in the department of learning and engagement at the Denver Art Museum.

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