You might recognise Barry Jazz, he’s the man who took our charcoal pencils, and turned the fake into something beautiful. The man barely sleeps, he lives, breathes and bleeds his art. Deep in the forest, as we all caught some well-earned rest, Jazz was awake, sketching, resketching and thinking it all through. He’s a man whose passion for his art supersedes even the most basic human needs. He’s a big character, a true Irishman, and his immense, meticulous charcoal portraiture is creativity unbound.
Meet Barry Jazz.
Barry, so where did this all talent come from? Did you go to Art School?
I did, but it was model making. The portrait stuff is self taught. During the course, the Irish film industry was booming, so when I got out I worked on a couple of movies. But the industry disappeared slowly. I fell into bar work, did a bit of travelling and lived in Belgium for a year. Then the portraits came along. All hit and miss, all self taught.
That makes sense, a lot of your work seems inspired by film.
I’m a big movie buff, when I’m drawing, I go through still shots of my blu-rays and find something I really like, but something that’s also a little obscure. I don’t want to use a token shot from a movie, something that’s been seen a hundred times. I’m actually working on a piece of Bill the Butcher, should be finishing that one tonight.
We’ve seen the progress shots, it’s looking great. How long does a big piece like that actually take then?
It depends really, the quickest would be around 7 hours, the longest about 18. I usually split it out across the days, a couple of hours at a time.
Now, on the shoot, we saw your fingers start to bleed. So that’s not normally a common occurrence?
Actually, it is with the live portraits. I was commissioned by ‘Rodrigo y Gabriella’ [a Mexican musical duo who gained a cult following and later, international fame busking on the streets of Dublin ] to produce something in two days, the biggest portrait I ever done. Now, that picture had to be shot in black and white, because a lot of it ended up red. At least then you can tell it’s an original of mine, all you need is a DNA test.
The mark of Jazz. Say outside of commission and film, if you seek out a subject, what are you looking for?
Just a bit of character, somebody interesting. Really it’s about contrast. I like drawing the older man, someone with lines and wrinkles. When a face has definition, you see a history to it, a story to each line. When you’ve got a fact that asks questions, like, where you’ve come from, why the wrinkles, are they smile lines, tired lines? What caused it? I like to read into that.
Outside of the art, you run The Zodiac Sessions, an open mic night in Dublin. Can you tell us a little more about that?
It's an open mic night for Dublin’s many aspiring musicians. It’s real, and it’s raw, a platform for the unsigned and the undiscovered. It's been going on for probably about 7 years now, it’s just a platform for up and comers to get out there, play a few tunes, get a bit of coverage. I actually use all their music in my videos. We’ve got about 7 or 8 musicians playing each night, all booked up for 4 weeks at a time. Actually, later on I’ll be doing a live drawing at one of my band’s album launches and I think I’m going to draw Brian Cranston from Breaking Bad. I’m completely obsessed with that at the moment, plus he’s bald, which is always good to draw.
We’ll let you get back to Bill the Butcher soon, just one more question. What does Irish True mean to you?
Well, it’s the attitude. That’s what I see it in. The buskers. None of the Bonos, straight back to the roots. It’s guys who aren’t after the money, the true Irish, people who do something because they love it, not chasing success. I guess I’d fall into that category, I do drawing because I love it and I’ll do it for the rest of my life. I mean, I’d love to make money off it, who wouldn’t, but it’s all about doing something you love. It’s not diluted down to any sort of reality TV show bullshit, it’s integrity, it’s universal but there’s a heart on the sleeve Irish sincerity to it. There’s not a lot of people who would just go out and do something because they’re passionate about it. It’s easy to take the secure choice, but then there’s the handful of people who say; “I’m not going to go off and do something safe, when my heart’s somewhere else”.
So that would be my version, but for the musicians, these guys, some of them do have the ‘9 to 5’, kids, families, but once a week, they say “right, I’m off” and take their guitar and do their own thing. That’s as true as it comes, for me. Making time to express themselves, express their stories or experiences through music or art. There’s so many of these people in Dublin, we must be doing something right.
We do like to think so, thanks for talking, Jazz. And go rest those hands.