Where There’s Wood, There’s a Way

“I stare at the chair until it takes a [new] form,” says José Pablo Barreda, next to his signature African Elephant.
Portrait by Matt Rose

When José Pablo Barreda comes upon a broken chair set on a curb, he stops his car and pulls over. Where others see trash, he finds treasure — or at least raw material. “I grab it and take it home,” he admits with a laugh. “Most of the chairs I get are broken and can’t be used to sit on anymore. I have never bought wood for my work, but have found it all on the side of the road. That’s part of the project: giving something that was discarded another chance.”

Barreda combines his life-long love of drawing, fascination with wildlife, interdisciplinary education at the Art Institute of Chicago, apprenticeship with a sculptor and job with a furniture maker to create his series of assembled sculptures, “Chairismatic,” using wood from cast-off furniture. Born in El Paso, Texas, to Mexican parents but raised and schooled across the river in Juarez, Mexico, Barreda says that splitting his time between both countries was his normal. “El Paso and Juarez are essentially one city on different sides of the border. I had family on both sides. I love that I was raised with a unique perspective of both places, and I value that experience. But I always knew I would eventually leave it and live my life somewhere else.”

Kodiak Bear
Photo by Matt Rose

When he was waitlisted at the University of Texas, where he hoped to study film, he submitted his portfolio of drawings to a representative of Chicago’s Art Institute for review, and to his great surprise he was accepted. “My mother had always provided me with tools to be creative, and I was always sketching and drawing, but I had never taken a single art class in school. When I got to Chicago, I was way behind the curve of everyone else there, so I had to adapt fast. I didn’t grow up thinking I could choose art as my life, but there I learned that being an artist is more who you are than a skill.”

Second chance at life: the animals in the “Chairismatic” series (Hammerhead Shark and Red Kangaroo), shown next to their previous incarnations.

He majored in illustration but found an affinity for sculpture in his senior year, graduating into a position as a studio assistant for a sculptor, where he learned to manage 3D pieces.  A subsequent job with an architect-turned-furniture-maker taught him the methods of woodworking and tapped a love for the material. “I had access to the shop after hours, and that’s where I started to build these pieces,” he says. His parents got an early version of a whale, and someone else a praying mantis — creatures he touched up as his technique evolved.

A relationship and a need to “live in a place with trees” brought him to Asheville in the spring of 2017, where he created a woodshop on the lower level of his house.  He has worked via commission, making a Sopwith Camel biplane (his only non-animal entity), but creates his other pieces according to what the wood tells him.

“I take apart the chair and stare at the pieces until it takes form in my head and tells me what it is. The Kodiak Bear took a while to see, but I’ll never run out of animals. Or chairs.”

José Pablo Barreda, Asheville. The artist’s sculptures are at The Haen Gallery in Brevard (210 South Broad St.) and The Haen Gallery in Asheville (52 Biltmore Ave.).  www.thehaengallery.com. For more information, see josepablobarreda.com

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