Student Spotlight: MFA student converses with former self to reflects on growth as an artist

Barry Phipps graduated with a BFA in 1990 and is using his experience to continue where he left off in visual art and exploring how different mediums come together.


Contributed photo

Emma Gaughan, Arts Reporter

When Barry Phipps started working toward his Master of Fine Arts in photography at the University of Iowa, he decided to pick up right where he left off after he graduated with his bachelor’s in 1990 from the Kansas City Art Institute.

He discussed this process in his talk, “A Collaboration With My Former Self,” which he gave on March 9 at Art Building West.

Phipps has experimented with many types of art by using the mediums of found objects and technology, music and sound, light, and video. At the UI, Phipps has explored bookmaking and electronics.

Phipps said he has tried almost everything that he has wanted in art and is focused on sticking with what he has found and likes. After graduating with his bachelor’s, Phipps said he stopped focusing on visual arts, but he wanted to return to it.

“Why don’t I just pick up where I left off and see how we are different?” Phipps said. “I wanted to experience perspective. So, it really just started simple.”

While Phipps has produced art of many forms for the past three decades — including founding his own apparel company and performing in an indie rock band called The Coctails — he decided to return to school for many reasons. Phipps and his wife did not know what to expect when they moved to Iowa City in 2012, but they immediately fell in love with the community.

Alongside wanting to hone his skills, Phipps shared that a desire to teach also brought him into the graduate program.

Through his photography, Phipps began to explore using the sculptural objects he was using as props. Much of his sculptural work used old objects, usually involving technology, such as old record players. He explored the use of light and motion to change the way objects acted and the way his audience perceived them.

“When I make the work, I’m not thinking about people, I’m not making it for people. I’m making it as a process of investigation,” Phipps said. “I hope it elicits a positive emotional response. I just want to elevate someone’s experience and improve the condition of the person.”

To create his retrospective show, Phipps collected his old art from different places and from different people to display them with his new art — a result he enjoyed being able to see. He said his parents saved most of the art he made in his childhood and young adult years. The retrospective show served as a way for his different eras of art to talk to one another. 

Phipps said that making art was never a choice for him. He said he spends a lot of his time on it and feels it is something he must do. 

“If you don’t have a choice, if you’re compelled to do it, you can’t do anything else,” Phipps said.