Like many other local artists, John Baran’s photography and paintings draw inspiration from the coastal waves of California. He took his first wave photograph when he was coming in from a dive. “I’m in the water while I’m taking the photos,” Baran said. “I let the waves break over me so I can push through them. I wake up at sunrise every day to look at the waves whether I go in or not. I find that a lot of times, it’s when I don’t want to go in that I get better photos. It forces me to be more creative.”
Baran’s mother, an artist herself, fostered his instinct for art while he was growing up. “When I was younger, my mother caught me drawing a dinosaur on the wall and she traced it, painted over it, and framed it,” Baran said. “She definitely supported my art.”
Baran stopped painting as he got older, but when he went to graduate school for landscape architecture, one of his professors inspired him to begin again. “He was from Nigeria and did African-inspired art but also abstract art,” Baran said. “He would show me the artists he liked as well as some of his own works. He encouraged us to think of creative and artistic ways to present our work, which inspired me to create more art.”
When Baran returned to art, he was doing primarily abstracts and wildlife. The latter were painted from pictures of animals he found online, however he eventually started taking his own photographs. As a photographer, Baran is determined to improve and grow creatively. “At first I didn’t care if it was good,” Baran said. “I didn’t care about lighting and composition; it was just about getting a picture of the animal then. Then I slowly got obsessed with taking good photographs.”
Baran’s work is heavily influenced by his background in landscape architecture. “My original landscape work was inspired by aerial photos looking down at the land,” he explained. “I would stare out the airplane window when flying to and from school and sketch and take photos of what I saw.”
Baran often mixes some soil or sand from the beach into his paintings or collects sticks or rocks and uses them as painting tools so he can have a piece of the landscape in his work. The paintings themselves are often quick sketches, fast and loose. “My wildlife paintings are more abstract and loose than photo-representational,” Baran said. “I’ll leave pencil marks purposefully and use all kinds of materials – acrylics, pen, pencil. It’s very textural, which is also inspired by the landscape. My work is unique because of the looseness and texturing, and the layering, the way I apply the resin on the paintings. I paint the eyes of the animals last and I take my time with them, because they’re what people really see when they look at my painting.”
On his love for abstract art, Baran said, “People say they don’t understand it, so I love when people see different things in it even if it’s not my intention. Some people immediately form deep connections with a specific painting. They can’t not buy it because it hits them so deeply, while others walk right by it. I find that pretty amazing.”
Baran first started selling his work in Carpinteria through the Seaside Makers Collective. “(Seaside Maker’s owner Kristin Fraser) is very open to new ideas and trying new things, and it’s fun to see other local artists in there,” he said. “It’s nice when their work complements mine as well. It’s fun to run into other artists and photographers in the water and talk about art. Most people help each other out when they hear about events and new stores opening up. People around here are very supportive in helping others succeed.”
Baran also donates original paintings and photography to local nonprofits. These include Heal the Ocean, Channel Islands Restoration, Channel Islands Marine Wildlife Institute and the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County. He has also been working with One Ocean Diving on Oahu, a non-profit that researches sharks, for about six years.
Baran’s art can be found at the Seaside Makers Collective, Habitat Home and Garden in Santa Barbara, Carmel Bay Company, Bliss 101 in Encinitas, A Gallery Fine Art in Palm Desert and more. He can also be found on johnbarananimalart.com or follow him on Instagram at @johnbaranart.