When Gulfport resident Mary Crear fell in love with St. Petersburg-based Jamaican artist Vivia Barron’s work, she knew she had to commission something special – her daughter-in-law and young grandchildren, a painting referencing a photo that was taken at Pass-a-Grille Beach.
Barron is known for recreating historic photographs of Black history in her faceless folksy painting style that she most recently debuted in her vintage postcard collection, The Beach Series.
This is the first time Barron’s been commissioned to paint living people.
“At first it was scary, a new challenge. I can look at a photograph and interpret it any type of way, and I’m not a portraitess,” Barron said. “But it was exciting and so personal. This opens up a whole new avenue of work for me.”
Crear’s family has owned a home they’ve coined “Gommer’s House” in Gulfport for 42 years, where Crear recently moved after leaving Minnesota three years ago.
“My daughter-in-law [Jane Crear] is Kenyan and my grandson [Leon Crear] is half Kenyan,” Crear said. “I wanted to represent them…They’re visiting from Minnesota for Thanksgiving…It’s going to be a surprise.”
Barron lives in South St. Petersburg with a studio at 2500 MLK St. S.
“I’m in the heart of the Black community. I was worried about her coming here to my home studio…We could have met at a Starbucks, but she didn’t want to,” Barron said. “She never batted an eye. I could feel an authenticity from her. She didn’t care, she said, ‘I like your work, I want your work.’”
“I would like to say it’s all about something deeper – art representing normalcy in Black people – but I really just enjoy her work,” Crear said. “It’s bright, beautiful, and I like the way she depicts water.”
Barron said Crear’s commission touched her because it merged two worlds.
“It meant a lot to me. Here’s this white grandmother that had her pick of a million white artists in Gulfport, and she chose to step out of her norm and choose a Black artist to paint her grandchildren,” Barron said. “It’s a shift in a generation.”
What’s Next From Vivia
Inspired by a New York Times article featuring Black surfers, Barron is currently working on an unnamed series about surfing in the Black community.
“The photos I saw of these people are so beautiful,” she said. “I can’t wait to start this.”
Keep up with Barron’s work at viviabarron.com.