For 30 Years, Artist Bill Barminski Has Channeled Postwar Ennui in Amazing Ways

A retrospective celebrates the L.A.-based artist and UCLA professor’s career

Baz Luhrmann’s 1999 spoken-word music video “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen)”—which borrowed its text from a column penned for the Chicago Trib by a writer named Mary Schmich and was memorably parodied by Chris Rock—was chockfull of good advice. But even if music television viewers weren’t actively internalizing its sage admonitions (I will say that “Don’t read beauty magazines; they will only make you feel ugly” always stuck with me), the video became a hit thanks to the hypnotic animations Bill Barminski’s created to accompany the track.

As it was described by critic Tobey Crockett in 1996, Barminski’s work “evokes postwar America,” in particular the “ominously surreal side of the good life.” For 30 years, the Mount Washington-based artist has cultivated an aesthetic that simultaneously celebrates and side-eyes the advertising artwork of the 1950s and ’60s through paintings, sculptures, music videos, and, more recently, projection mapping. Tonight and tomorrow, Castelli Art Space in Mid-City is hosting a retrospective of his work.  

The retrospective will feature over two dozen paintings, plus a never-before-seen bronze sculpture and new renditions of his signature cardboard sculptures. One of Barminksi’s more recognizable recent projects was the cardboard security screening room he created for Banksy’s Dismaland.

For the past 18 years, Barminski has been an instructor at UCLA, first in the art department and now in the film department, where he’s been able to explore digital projection mapping. (Incidentally, Barminski dropped out of art school.) “The basic concept,” as he explains on his website, “is to skew the output of a video projection onto non-regular surfaces.” He’s incorporated it into performances with his band, Shytegeist, including during a recent performance at the Resident downtown.

Weather permitting, Barminski says he plans on incorporating projection mapping into the retrospective. Since he worked on “Sunscreen,” the music business has changed dramatically, as has the business of making music videos, but Barminski has continued to find ways to innovate. And, really, everyone should wear sunscreen.

Barminksi Retrospective, Castelli Art Space, 5428 W. Washington Blvd., Mid-City; Fri.-Sat., Feb. 23-24. 

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