When Audrey Barcio, Ball State assistant professor of art, was a child, she would watch her grandmother paint and sit by her side, working with her own watercolors, bonding over creating art, growing closer as they painted and discovered new techniques.
Barcio always knew she was going to be an artist, and her grandmother introduced her to the field of art she became most interested in — abstraction.
“She was a self-taught painter and absolutely amazing,” Barcio said. “The reason I got into abstraction is because, as she got older, she lost her eyesight. Instead of traditional figurative paintings… She started working really large and working in abstraction, and her work became very expressive and bold.”
Now, Barcio has found her own distinctive voice as an artist and memorializes her grandmother through the work in her newest exhibition, “no subject (non-attachment),” at Echo Arts, a contemporary art gallery in Bozeman, Montana.
Barcio said the underlying theme of the show is communication, thinking about the influences it has on day-to-day life, and also pays tribute to artists who came before her.
“This body of paintings is the first time I’ve really put a lot of personal meaning into my work,” she said. “The canvases are stitched together. In my 20s, I was in a car accident that resulted in me losing several fingers on my dominant hand. I introduced stitching to these canvases as a material reference to that experience.”
Barcio has 24 works on display in the show, which she said is her ninth solo exhibition. The paintings vary in size and were made over the past year. She said it’s been interesting to see it all come together, with each painting being influenced by a different time of year.
Barcio flew to Montana for the Dec. 10, 2021, opening and gave an artist talk about her work. She said it’s always challenging for an artist to visualize their work in the studio the same way it will be exhibited, so seeing it at the gallery is important.
“Experiencing everything together in a space is really satisfying,” she said. “It informs you so much about your work in a way you can’t normally see.”
Barcio said she discovered Echo Arts gallery through Sahra Beaupré, owner of the gallery. The two met in 2015 while Barcio was a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Barcio and Beaupré have stayed in touch since they met and began planning the exhibition about a year ago.
“An interesting conversation I had with [Barcio] popped back into my mind, and I wondered what she was up to,” Beaupré said. “I read about all the things that she had been doing and fell even more in love with what she was working on.”
Beaupré said she is interested in Barcio’s work because she believes it is very in-depth and thoughtful, including modernist and abstract references, as well as references to art history.
“All three of those elements combined are really what initially interested me in Audrey’s paintings for the show,” Beaupré said. “They just look really beautiful all together.”
The community response to Barcio’s exhibition has been positive, Beaupré said, and she believes Barcio is a “good guide” for her students who can give them more advice about college and life afterward.
“You can always tell who’s a teacher. They’re very open, they’re very receptive and great listeners, and [Barcio] hits all the marks,” Beaupré said. “I think she shows her students how to be thoughtful about which college they will pursue, where they’ll be working … I think that’s the best type of information to pass on to your students, above and beyond the love that you have for the subject.”
Beaupré believes Barcio can guide students in a unique way because of her own college experience, as Barcio was the first person in her family to attend a four-year university. Barcio said it was challenging for her being a first generation student.
She attended the Herron School of Art and Design at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), where she received a degree in art education and a minor in art history. She worked throughout college as a waitress, taking extra time to get her undergraduate degree so she wouldn’t take out student loans and still be able to pay her way through school.
After graduating from IUPUI, she worked as a substitute teacher and taught classes at Herron as an adjunct professor, along with teaching community classes and working at Big Car Art Collaborative, a not-for-profit art organization in Indianapolis.
In 2008, Barcio and her husband, Phillip Barcio, moved to San Francisco, where she went back to working in a restaurant because art jobs in the area were very low paying. She became a sommelier — a wine expert — before she and her husband moved to Los Angeles.
While in Los Angeles, a friend of Barcio’s reminded her that she had moved out West because she had planned to go to graduate school.
“He was like, ‘You’re an artist — what are you doing?’” Barcio said. “And I was like, ‘I don’t know,’ and that process of questioning myself led me back to my path. Graduate school was a really great time because it was the first time I can remember that I really took time off [to focus on art].”
After completing graduate school, Barcio began working at Kavi Gupta, an art gallery in Chicago, where she met a variety of artists, including Beverly Fishman, former head of painting at Cranbrook Academy of Art.
“[Barcio] was basically my liaison, which was my go-to person at the gallery when things came up or if I had questions,” Fishman said. “She was 100 percent professional and absolutely responsible. She’s super smart, and I became very fond of her.”
Fishman said she always knew Barcio was an ambitious artist, so it was only a matter of time before she left the gallery to teach. She and Barcio don’t typically talk about education when they are together, but she can imagine her to be articulate, engaging and relatable.
“She’s a strong woman, and that’s really important for young artists,” Fishman said. “To see women in positions of power and to be able to emulate this idea that you could be an artist — and you can also be a mentor and an educator — is really important.”
For Barcio, teaching and creating her own art goes hand-in-hand, and she believes her job at Ball State is the first job she’s had that encourages her to be an artist.
“Oftentimes, when you’re an artist, you kind of hide the fact that you’re an artist because your job really wants you to be committed to them and what they do,” Barcio said. “I’m a natural extrovert and so, for me, teaching is perfect because when I’m in my studio working, it’s just me, and it can be really lonely.”
Teaching also gives Barcio an opportunity to share her passion for art history with students, reminding them why it is important for them in their careers. She also loves that teaching gives her the opportunity to look more at the production process, especially in painting.
Barcio said there is a lot of responsibility in teaching, which she takes very seriously. She includes diverse subjects in her class, comparing artists of the past to those who are working now and what their differences are. She also shares her own experiences with students, inspiring them to look toward the next chapter of their creative lives.
“That’s why I think it took me some time to get into teaching as a profession,” she said. “I really wanted to experience what it was like to be an artist and to live in different cities and have a variety of different jobs. I wanted to have my own personal success and accolades, and I didn’t want to go from undergraduate school to graduate school into teaching, because that’s not the life that many people have, or that my students will have.”
Contact Maya Wilkins with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mayawilkinss.