Within the Statue of Liberty is the landscape of America. A gift from the people of France to the people of the United States, the statue was created in a shared celebration of freedom and democracy. Lady Liberty is stoic and breathtaking, a global symbol of independence — a welcomed sight for travelers returning home, or in search of a new one.
The statue was declared a National Monument in 1924 and remains one of the most visited monuments with roughy 3.5 million visitors annually. Cleveland based illustrator Oliver Barrett was tapped to create a limited-edition poster for the Statue of Liberty as part of the Fifty-Nine Parks Print Series, a collection currently being archived by the Library of Congress. Barrett is an illustrator known for his crisp yet fractured illustrations — a portrait falling back into itself, connecting in new strange ways, but for his work with the Fifty-Nine Parks Print Series, Barrett pushed beyond his usual tropes to create something everlasting while maintaining his unique spark.
CJ: Your portraits have an emphatic sense of movement, but as a subject, the ‘Statue of Liberty’ does not require, and perhaps does not inspire, that approach. What attracted you to take on the gig?
OB: JP over at Fifty Nine Parks works with a ton of talented folks from all over the country. I’m assuming a few from NYC as well. Since he chose to ask me, a schmuck from Cleveland, I took it as a challenge. Sure, it’s a static image, but it’s an American icon, maybe THE American icon; it’s almost a bucket-list type of project. Plus, the form of the statue, particularly everything from the waist-up, creates a wild silhouette that I wanted to try.
There is only a finite number of ways you could have approached the illustration. Time of day, the season – the perspective. It’s similar to a film poster, you only have so many parts to play with and you handled it beautifully. She’s rigid and worn. The landscape grounds her to the Earth but doesn’t take away from Lady Liberty.
Being a national monument, you can’t take too many liberties with it like you can for a film like The Martian. There’s a part of me that wants to think you had to approach this differently than you would a film poster or Bandcamp illustration. It still looks like you, but a refined version. No strangeness present. Was that a difficult ‘change’ to make? To be this direct?
In my head, yes, it was difficult. Given the current political state of the country. My mind was thinking of all these different distortions or fractures to shove into the poster, but obviously, they’re inappropriate for this. It’s tough because I wonder how this fits into my body of work, but I think it’s a nice break from all the wild noise that I normally come up with. Plus, it was an opportunity for me to try a few new things like using bigger and fewer brush strokes and simpler lines instead of my normal scribbling.
Also, the first couple of passes at this had different buildings that were purposely fuzzy to push them into the distance, which was a test that I failed. They would have looked way too scratchy when printed and looking at it now, they look awful. So, when that happened, I thought ‘okay, gotta step your game up and figure out how to do this the right way.’ I couldn’t hide my mistakes through fractures or glitchy distortions. It worked out in the end, but it was a hellish learning experience for a little bit. Nothing like making yourself eat crow.
In your sports illustrations, there is a definite dose of you in there – the love and frustration for your home team felt during the NBA Finals and sarcastic nostalgia found in ‘Baseball Jerks.’ A National Park brings with it a certain amount of reverence. It’s nature and it’s history. Do you have any personal history with Glacier Bay National Park or the Statue of Liberty?
I, unfortunately, do not have a personal history with either place. Though I’ve really, really wanted to visit some of these parks.
Does it matter?
I think it matters a little bit. I’ve seen Lady Liberty from a distance, but haven’t visited. Though I think this monument carries a different weight than Glacier Bay. I have a much stronger appreciation for chilly mountains after drawing them.
With the Fifty-Nine Parks Print Series being included in the Library of Congress, far more viewers, current and future, will be aware of your Statue of Liberty and Glacier National Park. Between these illustrations and your ESPN portraits used for the NBA Finals, it plants you deep in the world of major illustration. These are major moments. Do you feel a change in your career? Is it far too gradual to get a sense of it?
I’ve never thought of it that way. I have such a hard time living in the moment. Maybe I’m just too concerned with the next thing to focus on anything that I’ve accomplished. It’s a constant battle. I have a hard enough time taking a compliment.
It’s cheesy as hell, but Lebron‘s catchphrase is ‘strive for greatness,’ and that’s what I’m trying to do, though I really don’t have a clue what greatness means to me, and if I’m gonna mention Lebron, I might as well toss in some Kobe or Jordan. I’m often thinking of my high school teachers who thought I wasn’t good enough to get a scholarship or the condescending classmates in college who talked shit and aren’t doing anything with their education now. Any success for me has a brief moment of a defiant ‘fuck you’ to those people. I’m sure there will be new naysayers that’ll continue to fuel me as I keep working.
And then on flip-side, I’m incredibly grateful for these opportunities. The fact that I get to draw for a living is something I’ll never take for granted. And though I might get burnt out and so stressed that my hair grays and my temples get all zitty, I’m thankful to be in this position. The next step is to start giving back. And that means helping students, newbs to the industry, and most importantly, helping those people who have it much worse than I did when I was a kid.