Australian painter Mike Barr feels drawn to rainy streets and empty beaches — two subjects that lend themselves well to a narrow range of colors. That’s no accident. 

“River Day,” by Mike Barr, oil, 8 x 10 in.

Barr practices considerable restraint when it comes to color. “I believe one of the keys to better painting is less color,” says the artist. “Pieces with too much color tend to lack focus because all the colors are vying for attention. They also lack peacefulness. Some of the best work you will ever see is almost monochrome, with tactfully used color. The best palette is a limited one with colors you learn to be good friends with — your good friends will never let you down! As many artists will tell you, tone is king — not color.”

“Walkers — Port Willunga,” by Mike Barr, acrylic, 11 x 14 in.

“Railway Shadows,” by Mike Barr, acrylic on linen, 12 x 12 in.

For a rainy street scene such as his award-winning painting “Late Rain,” Barr works from photographs. He’s largely a studio artist, but that is changing. “As I see it, there are a number of advantages in painting outdoors,” says Barr. “You see color as it is, you learn to simplify the scene, you learn to paint quickly, thus increasing your skills with the brush, and of course this all helps your confidence as a painter — confidence is so important. On top of all of this, it is one of the most enjoyable life experiences possible, particularly if you are painting with others.” 

“Morning Storm,” by Mike Barr, oil, 8 x 10 in.

“Late Afternoon Seacliff,” by Mike Barr, acrylic on linen, 6 x 8 in.

Even in the sunniest of Barr’s beachscapes, there is a moodiness. Blame it on the sky. “I like to include lots of sky as I believe this sets the mood for the whole painting, particularly in a plein air piece,” he says. The addition of people in Barr’s work doesn’t alleviate this; their presence only makes the moody expression more complex.

“Morning River,” by Mike Barr, acrylic, 11 x 14 in.

“Autumn Sails,” by Mike Barr, oil, 8 x 10 in.

From a technical standpoint, Barr states that he tones his canvas, and he works quickly. “I think the only thing that people will find unusual about my process is the speed,” says the artist. “I paint fast, and have done so out of necessity. I finish almost all of my work in one session, no matter what size canvas. I find this helps the painting flow and helps me become one with the process. I leave the finished painting on display for a few days where I can see it, and this usually shows me if anything needs doing to it. With my darker, rainy paintings I tend to have an ochre-toned canvas and let this shine through in places. I have a liking for square formats for streetscapes and wider canvases for beachscapes.”

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