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 Portrait Of An Acrylic Rock Star: Neal Barbosa

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Saturday, April 9, 2011 - 2:07pm

Neal painting live at The Hopmonk Tavern

The crowd cheers as the musicians take their place on the stage. The lights dim…. BAM! There’s the beat of the drums followed by the THUMP! of a bass, and finally the moans and groans of the human voice as a cacophony of sound floods the room. On the sideline, a new breed of “Rock Star” takes his place and ignites his creative fire. His instruments are not the customary rock star tools, oh no. His instruments are not purchased at Bananas at Large or Guitar Center. To find this man’s creative instruments you’d be better off visiting an art supply store, for his tools include paint, brushes and canvas. This man’s name is Neal Barbosa and he paints like a madman amid the flood of sound coming from the stage as live music is his muse.

Wearing dark sunglasses & black clothing splattered in layers of years’ worth of paint, Neal Barbosa is a striking, yet mysterious presence on a stage. ‘What is this about?’ you may ask yourself, ‘why is there a painter onstage with this band?’ But then the music starts and Neal picks up his brushes oozing with acrylic color and orchestrates his magic inspired by the notes and licks that he hears from the bands.

Painted live at The Artista Gang's Joyfest

“There is an interchange of creativity onstage,” says Neal of his place with the bands. “Some musicians have told me that they have done the same song over and over but were inspired to put a creative twist on the song in the moment after they look over and see how every note flowed through my arms to my hands and is then transformed through the paintbrush onto the canvas.”

Hailing from Southern California and now residing in Sonoma County, Neal is a man who takes his art seriously. Beginning at 9, he started to explore sketching and drawing as a method of express his creativity. By 16 he was painting. Over the years he has utilized music and the art of Stanley Mouse to inspire his style and love of the acrylics. Of his friendship with Stanley Mouse, “I have kinda gone off in my own direction and developed my own unique style, however Stanley has inspired me to do some nude figure drawing and painting from nude models posing. Our relationship mostly revolves around art and projects and painting live when there is music around. I recently invited Stanley to paint at the Fillmore in SF and he invited me to show some of my art at The Rockin’ Roses Gallery in Healdsburg.

Painting with The Chris Amodeo Band

His admiration of live music and his deep appreciation of what bands create with live music led him to paint for the first time in 2003 with drummer-pal Zach Morris, who currently drums with Gabby La La. Now, with approximately 4,000-7,000 paintings created from over 1,000 live-painting gigs at venues spanning from L.A to Northern California to Finland, Neal has painted everything from images of psychedelic guitars or other instruments to the beloved faces of Jim Hendrix & Marilyn Monroe, all while some band kicks up the beat a few feet away from his easel. “One time I was onstage with Fishbone and I painted 20 or 24 paintings in a 45 minute set!! But now I kinda do 5- to 10 in a set.... I’ve slowed down a bit since then.” Painting during live performances gives Neal an actual audience who sees the art being created in front of their eyes. Neal creates a shared experience with his art, not just a groovy picture.

With many drastic changes in the music industry has changed over the years, there are no longer behemoth music companies churning out records and creating over-hyped stars of little talent. More and more bands are touring much of the year and gigging at large events or festivals to make a living and get their name and music out to the masses. Along these lines, musical events and gigs are becoming more vibrant and vaudeville-like than ever before. Bands or venues are taking things to a new level of spectacle where performance artists, fire dancers, jugglers and costumed characters often participate in the performance with the musicians.

Neal Barbosa has taken this multi-tiered approach to entertainment and used his talent as part of a whole new wave of true performance art. He is ready to take his inspirational talent to a new level in the face of the ever-changing music business. Through guerilla marketing, hard networking and shameless self-promotion (is any self-promotion really shameless anymore?) via social networking sites and D-I-Y online art galleries, he has sold his art and achieved notice for his name. But there are two huge events in Neal’s life that are destined to make him a star.

Painted with John Mooney

His talent as a performance painter has grabbed the notice of Songwriter & Guitarist Normal Bean, who‘s summer tour up the West Coast has given Neal a seat on tour bus and a place onstage with the bands. “I'm so exited because these guys are really seasoned musicians that realize what a performance is all about, FUN! And they often collaborate for everyone’s enjoyment,” gushes Neal about his newfound tour mates.

And as if that were not enough to garner notice, Neal also has a documentary film being made about his painting and his live performances onstage. He has traveled to LA & Finland to be a part of the filming of “Acrylic Groove” with is pal, filmmaker Steve Gatlin. Weaving interviews and film footage of his Live Painter performances over the last 5 years with bands such as LA’s Shiny Toy Guns as well as Les Claypool, Neal is thrilled about the spotlight on his work, “Its exiting for me because this is what I dreamed of in order to share the experience of Live Painting with the everyone, as well as to inspire young and old to create and maybe work up the boldness to express themselves for the whole world to enjoy”

With many more Live Painter gigs to come including several summer festivals, an upcoming gig with Richard Thompson at the Fillmore plus ongoing weekly stints at Sebastopol’s The Hopmonk Tavern’s DJ Party “The Juke Joint” and summer weekends jamming outside at Lagunitas Brewery to some of NorCal’s favorite bands, Neal Barbosa is honing his Live Painter chops to better groove with the bands he loves. He has and impressive resume of coveted gigs with high profile bands such as the punk/jazz trio The Dead Kenny G’s (“this is exactly the kind of music I love to paint to. Nothing boring about them and they are the most accomplished musicians I have ever heard or will ever hear in my whole life or will ever paint to again”), goofball rockers Forrest Day (“Unforgettable really! I was relating with their songs and never wanting to set my paint brushes down during any song.”) and The Red Paintings from Australia (“I went on a small tour with them and it was so great to paint to, man what talent! Full-on theatrical experience, octopus costumes, Japanese garb, cello player, violin, guitar, bass, piano, ray guns, live body painters, live performance painter, and some aw inspiring music!”)

Painted during The Red Paintings 2008 Tour

Finding something that works with one’s creativity is an amazing feat. Neal Barbosa takes his desire to paint and makes it more than the sum of it’s creative parts. “I'm still learning all the time how to work with musicians on stage and what not to do when in front of the audience and the camera. But I love it, its like being in an artistic bubble. Some times I am channeling what the musicians are doing and singing about and it just flows through my arms and out my paint brushes, kinda like when I’m making love, I’m totally in the moment enjoying every second every drop of pleasure and forgetting about everything and just creating totally in the moment like a butterfly flying through the brisk smooth clean air during sunrise near the ocean on a late winter morning. Without a care in the world.”

Painted during Floydian Slip

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