Artist Statement

Through a compendium of interdisciplinary and time-based means, my studio work attempts to embrace the empathy, emotion and memory of the human condition.

These newest in-progress works have allowed me to depart from animation and return to the human form, offering an infusion of visceral media and a new platform to investigate time and empathy. This group of new static-based portraits are collections of specific individuals that are visually 'compressed' into one hybrid image, creating a new composite of their collective identity. The only caveat is that they consider themselves to be a 'family'.

In this fashion – time, age, race, gender, sexual orientation, and biological factors all collapse into one another regardless of the nature of the families’ relationships, or their perceived identities. In essence, these new portraits become a visualization of their aggregate data sets, with each family member representing with their own unique qualities and identifiers.

To capture the hybrid of each family, gesture and emotion are allowed to run rampant throughout the images, amplifying their dramatic posturing and cinematic framing in these unique superimpositions. Traditional modes of indirect painting meet technology as these images employ techniques of facial recognition, digital rasterization, camera obscura, chiaroscuro, and sfumato in their creation. It is clear that my prior research in animation has informed and influenced these new works.

The grouping of these large-scaled works metamorphosize into disarticulated narratives that attempt to recall upon the cumulative identity of each family, as time and image transition into a new visual form, representing both the individual and the families to which they belong.


JAMES BARANY is a MIAD alumni in Drawing from 1992, and earned his MFA in Drawing/Painting with an additional focus in Vocal Performance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1997. Barany has been a full-time member of MIAD’s Foundations and First-Year Experience department (FYE) since 2000. In the evenings, Barany performs Comprimario roles and sings as a Bass Chorister with the Grammy-winning Florentine Opera Company. These unique and separate fields within the arts, often hybridize together through Barany’s award-winning experimental animations and interdisciplinary studio work.

Barany is a former recipient of the Mary Nohl Fellowship for Emerging Artists (2005) in Time Based Media. Since 2005, his experimental animations have been screened at numerous venues and festivals including Black Maria International, Athens International, Transom Media, Humboldt International, ATHICA, Charles Allis Art Museum, Guenzel Gallery and the Wisconsin Film Festival. Largely based in empathy and memory, all of Barany’s work continues to examine and challenge theories of empathy and metacognition through direct personal experience.

Barany is an active member of the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), Foundations Art Theory and Education (FATE), and the College Art Association (CAA). Prior to chairing FYE and Foundations, Barany served as Coordinator of Understanding the Visual and previously chaired both Fine Arts and 2D/4D Design at MIAD. Barany's studio is located in Waukesha at the Springs Gallery & Studios.


Inspiration (Backstory)

The following questions are intended to provide insight into the artist's process, how they got started and what inspires them.

Was there a person or event that got you started creating your art? Does that person or event continue to influence the work that you do?
Both of my biological parents played large roles in the nurturing of my creative development. Throughout my youth and between households, I could always find both of them working with their hands to make, produce, or create in some manner. They realized very early my ability to draw, and made sure I was well-stocked with paper and an abundance of other materials needed to express myself and explore my imagination. I was rarely shown how to do something, rather, they made sure I was equipped to create.

At what point did you consider yourself an artist?
I’ve always considered myself an artist. I've been told I was drawing before I could walk, so it's difficult to imagine a time prior to this that wouldn’t qualify. Creativity has been deeply encoded and nurtured throughout my entire life, in everything I do.

Who or what inspires you and why?
PEOPLE – including their complex relationships, connecting stories, defining narratives, and physical differentials. The combination of these aspects have allowed me to examine the empathy, emotion, and memory of a larger, collective anthropology. Recently several of these elements have merged together to offer a unique visualization of the qualitative data of my subjects; allowing for a unique fusion of their physical, social, and cultural attributes. All aspects of a person, from their underlying structures of anatomy to their most complex psychologies and identifiers, are utilized in conjunction to examine the whole self.

What was the first piece of art you made? Do you remember why you made it? What materials did you use and why?
From my childhood, I fondly recall a set of dual self-portraits that were created from a heat transfer process with the help of my teacher, Judy Sarasin, in 1976. I was fascinated that we pulled a print from the original drawing, which was done in thick, impasto oil pastel. I was intrigued that it was a mirror-opposite rendition of the original. They were positioned like a set of diptychs imitating a Rorschach inkblot test and created their own unique psychology. The original drawing was stark and emotive; drawn directly upon white sandpaper. The print was transferred onto fabric and was stuffed with cotton to add to the illusion of volume and dimension, creating a unique impression – a doppleganger of sorts.

Are there any programs or learning opportunities that you wish you had as a young artist?
I was completely satisfied with the access I had to creative experiences growing up in the farming community of Chilton, Wisconsin. I was encouraged to be creative on a daily basis, regardless if it was a strict lesson, explorative play, or inventive experimentation. I was not an anomaly there either; several of us went on to pursue professional vocations in art and design within a very short duration of time. We had exceptional creative programming that was valued and respected by the community. In high school, I attended a very focused pre-college art camp at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay during my sophomore summer. That experience lit a fire underneath me that still burns. In one summer, I produced more work than I had done in an entire year. It gave me the focus and grit needed to be successful with the requirements and demands of a private post-secondary art school.

What would you say to a young person to encourage their study and practice of art?
Experiment, play, explore, and learn from your mistakes! Don’t be afraid to take risks, and if everything goes wrong – don’t be too quick to judge the result. Remember that you are always your own worst critic. If you don’t like what you have made, then "remove yourself" from the situation and take a break. Doing this will hopefully allow you to see it with fresh eyes. Live in the work that you make. Only by doing this will you begin to fully understand it. Constantly learn as you continue to move forward, always building upon your own, unique experiences within the larger realm of visual culture. Lastly, and most importantly – try to understand the larger notion of "WHY" it is that you make, rather than "HOW" it is you have made something. Doing this will allow you to begin to find your own unique voice, and with hope – will allow you the ability to begin to realize what your message of creativity needs to be.


Artistic Practice

The following questions are intended to create insight into the artist’s practice and why they think art is important.

Is this your first and only career? If not, what other jobs have you had and how have they influenced your artistic practice?
As an adult I have only known careers that are defined by the arts and their supporting education, however - there were many small positions and experiences that led to my faculty position at MIAD and CHORISTER appointment with the Florentine Opera. What is most influential now is that each of my positions requires me to keep learning, and that continuum of education defines and redefines my knowledge and understanding.

Do you like people to see your work/comment on it while it is still in process? Why?
Since my own education in the arts this has never bothered me, but rather is welcome. This is frequently the approach taken in post-secondary education as the examination of work and effort is defined by the requirement of critique.

Do you have a daily artistic ritual or routine? If so, how does this help you?
I am in the studio as much as I can afford to be there, however the complications of my related duties create a routine that shifts and changes with the seasons - especially around the needs and requirements of my family and children.

What inspiration/research led you to your current body of work?
1. Diana Barany (my wife) and her unbelievable ability to logistically decipher and read code and numerical data, 2. A lifelong love of anatomy and the human form, and 3. The power of the cinematic zoom, transition, and projection.

What caused you to gravitate toward the materials and processes you are currently using?
A return to practices of infusing multiple process including, drawing, painting, mono-printing and digital compositing. Each of the chosen media embody a particular strength and weakness that allows me to play with an undercurrent of gestural mark-making vs. articulating specificity.


Current Work

The following questions are intended to offer insight into the artist’s current work and what they intend their audience to understand.

What role does process have in your work?
Process is always important to my work, however in this specific series; process is critical to the outcome. In every aspect from preparing to understand my subjects emotional state to digital mapping and then finally to the true work of painting; everything is critical to the whole.

How do you know when a piece is complete?
When I leave the studio and I have an uneasy feeling in my stomach, a feeling of insecurity - I start to pay attention. This usually means I'm doing something new and somewhat unpredictable, in essence - I'm taking a certain risk that I am unsure about. When I leave for that moment and later when I return, time itself becomes an important part of this process. Time allows me to forget about what I had done prior, and offers me an opportunity see it with 'new eyes' when I return. This is when I usually know if I am ready to let it stand upon its own, or if it still for some reason requires my guidance. A rather subjective definition of such a simple objective, but it's how I suffer through all of it.

What is the one idea/thought you hope people will have/take away with them after viewing your work?
That they are impacted in some aspect at an emotive level, and that each is offered an opportunity for self-reflection due to the experience of engaging my work.

Why do you create art?
If I do not I become a pressure cooker with no way to vent out my energy or emotion. It is the manner in which I regulate my mental health and explore deeper modes of thinking, pondering and personal response. It allows me to explore realms of consciousness and at times, to even touch aspects of metacognition. It gives me opportunities to think, reflect, explore, make, fail and repeat - because somewhere in that process; beauty exists. How can't I make art?

What role does the artist have in society? Why do you think art is important to society?
We are critical to it. We often give voice to those who do not have it. We tend to be there in the mix of NEW ideas, with the thinkers, the scientists, the musicians, the poets and the writers as we play with ideas and try to come to a deeper understanding of their potential. We are often the first to experiment with these ideas, technologies and theories before the terms are even coined, understood or respected. We both advocate for others as we attempt to understand our own position in it, we simultaneously seek the truth and attempt to redefine it on our own terms.

Why do you think it’s important to support the arts?
Any time we do, we simply allow more of it to exist for the benefit of all. The arts in their many, many forms are critical to our thinking, empathy and mental health as both individuals and also as a society within the realm of visual and performative culture.