For our November Manc of the Month, we interviewed the wonderful Kim Barsky! Kim is a Manchester-based abstract expressionist artist whose work combines landscapes, portraits and pops of neon. Keep reading to hear all about Kim’s practice, processes, upcoming projects and more!

Cotton on MCR: Please introduce yourself and your work to our Cotton On MCR readers.

Kim Barsky: ‘Hi, I’m Kim Barsky. I’m a Manchester-based painter who hates to put a label on my work. Is it Abstract Expressionism, Fauve inspired, Pure Abstract or purely intuitive? It’s probably a little bit of everything. I love to work big and bold. Experimenting with neon, explosive colour – unless of course, I’m working small and minimal with a subtle restricted palette.’

COM: It’s interesting how your practice revolves around landscapes, but you often use ‘unnatural’ neon colours to depict them. What inspires your colour palette?

KB: ‘I love to put pops of ‘unnatural’ colour in unlikely places as they stimulate the senses. Working with neons has been a recent development. I think it was a response to all the COVID lockdowns. They are incredibly uplifting to work with and have proved to be a great mood changer.’

‘Neon Trees’

COM: Is there a particular landscape or reference that you refer back to in your works?

KB: ‘Much of my work is landscape inspired although I tend to not work from direct reference as I find that it can be creatively restricting. Generally, my aim is to capture and evoke an emotional response to the landscape rather than create a visual representation.’

COM: Your style of painting is super-expressive and bright – has it always been like this, or has your work changed over time?

KB: ‘I have been working full time as an Artist for 12 years during which time my work has constantly evolved. I would feel creatively suffocated if I were to stick to one particular style or theme. I often revisit certain subjects bringing new energy and life that I’ve acquired on the way. Although my work is diverse there is a common recognisable thread that runs through my artwork. It’s like handwriting – you can’t disguise it! People are often amazed, when they visit my studio, by how prolific I am. I work with bursts of great speed and energy which I think is fed through my work.’

Kim’s studio space

COM: We absolutely love the collection of work that we recently shared on our Instagram – @cottononmcr. Tell us more about them – what’s the general process behind pieces like this?

KB: ‘My most recent series, titled Breaking Free, was born out of and a response to COVID lockdown. The restrictions gave us all lots of time to think and reevaluate our lives. I am very much of a generation (I’m 64) that was expected to walk the same path as their family and peers. Inherited belief structures – be they religious, cultural or political are handed down from generation to generation. For many people things are still the same today but historically, certainly in the West, there has never been a time where people are so free to challenge and move away from belief structures that are not relevant to them. It’s disruptive and it’s exciting. A time of great change. This is what my Breaking Free series is about. The colours are unsettling and jarring. There is a lot of movement and energy within the work. I was very excited by the project but I felt it needed to have a positive conclusion so I created the final piece which is titled Breaking Free – finding your tribe. Ultimately, I think, that is what life’s journey is about – finding where you fit!’

‘Breaking Free’ Series

COM: What are your hobbies and interests outside of art?

KB: ‘My life is very busy. I have a husband, 3 adult children, 6 grandchildren and a ludicrous amount of house plants. Juggling my family, my home and my art can be quite a challenge. The biggest of which is my complete ineptitude when it comes to anything computer related. It drives me mad. If I had my way I would bring back the carrier pigeon and write messages with a swan feather and squid ink. In saying all that, I am obsessed with Instagram.’

COM: What are your thoughts on the current Manchester art scene?

KB: ‘I am absolutely amazed by the pool of incredibly creative and talented people in Manchester. There seems to be so much going on. Such diversity in so many different disciplines. What is it about Manchester that has historically produced such amazing creativity? I feel proud to be part of such a thriving exciting city.’

A Touch of Turner’

COM: Are there any challenges that you’ve faced during your practice? If so, how did you overcome them?

KB: ‘I was very coy for a long time about calling myself an artist. Is it when you’ve sold a painting, or 5 paintings or 10? Can you still call yourself an artist if you can’t draw a realistic picture of your neighbours cat? ‘Imposter Syndrome’, it seems, is a very common problem amongst artists. Having struggled with this in the early years, I now understand that being an artist is something you ARE. It is something within you. It’s how you view the world regardless of how many paintings you have sold or even if nobody likes your work.’

Self Portrait ‘Cabin Fever’ – completed during lockdown

COM: Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions you’d like to tell us about?

KB: ‘I have a creative urge to paint BIG. I recently completed a commission that was 7ft x 4ft. And I loved it. I loved the huge sweeping gestural brush strokes and the physicality of the process. I need to think my plan through as there are lots of considerations such as cost, storage, delivery issues etc. etc. In the meantime, till I sort the logistics of these future plans I am looking forward to my open studio weekend which is being held in a beautiful studio on the 3rd floor, Vernon Mill, Stockport, SK1 2HX. It’s to be held on 27th and 28th November, 10.30 am till 4.30 pm.’

COM: If you could live in any piece of artwork, what would it be and why?

KB: ‘What a brilliant question! Without a doubt, I would happily live in the ‘Bedroom in Arles’  by Van Gogh.’

‘Bedroom in Arles’ by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888.


You can see more of Kim’s work at Saatchi Art or on her Instagram page @kimbarskyart

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