By Emily Butler
Photos by Morgan Hunt
Black meets white. Modern meets vintage. Old meets new. And that is where you will find Barclay Gresham’s art.
These days you are likely to find her scouring thrift stores and flea markets for vintage frames for her abstracts on paper (and for her @funfindsbham vintage and antique sales handle on Instagram). Although some of her paintings are large, she also creates smaller framed paintings that add style to desks, bookshelves, mantles and tables alike—a niche of art she started exploring as she thought about how many homes with open design concepts have less wall space for art.
And don’t be fooled—small art can still make a big impact, especially since Barclay keeps its destination in mind as she paints. “It is always made from the heart,” she says. “I never just slap something together. I’m really aware that this piece is going in someone’s house.”
All of her pieces large and small are personal, and she never settles when she does not like a piece she has in the works. “I will cover over a piece 20 times until I like it,” she says. “I need it to be something that I am really happy with. I finish my paintings when I love them and would either give them as a gift or I would hang them in my own house.”
Barclay—who graduated from Mountain Brook High School and whose two children now have as well—also heavily considers the way others react to the paintings. If a particular piece does not sell in less than six months, then she will start over with it. For the most part they sell quickly though.
She applies a similar thought process to commission work as well: “My goal for commission pieces is that I will paint it, and if you don’t love it, then you don’t have to pay me. We can start over, or you can cut ties. It rarely doesn’t work out, but it puts people at ease.”
While Barclay sometimes starts with a piece of inspiration, the art usually never looks the same by the end of her process, and she has many pieces going in her studio at once. “Even if it is a small one, by the time I get the frame and finish it up, some take an hour and some more like 50 hours,” she says.
Barclay’s artistic journey began when she was 9 years old. While visiting Disney World with her best friend’s family, they stayed at the home of a family friend who was an artist, and he walked them through creating a painting of their own. “I fell in love with the process and started taking classes here and there through the years,” she says.
And that was just the beginning. As a young adult, Barclay could not afford big paintings for her house, so she started painting her own. Her art took off at that point. “One day I transformed our living room into an art studio, and it went from there,” she says. “Now I am at a studio in Cahaba Heights where I have the whole house and I can make a huge mess if I want to.”
Earlier in her art career, Barclay put a lot of emphasis on gloss of her paintings and would often add texture with coffee grounds and beeswax. But after years in that style, she got burned out and headed in a new artistic direction with her new vintage-modern twist that she feels like has a more sophisticated and refined style.
The most important part of her work as an artist, though, is giving to people in a way that is meaningful. For example, at one point in her career Barclay had sold a lot of paintings of blonde angels before she decided to paint one of two angels with dark hair. For a long time it didn’t sell, until she got a message she will never forget. “(The woman) said that my work was really moving and reminded her so much of her girls,” Barclay recalls. “It turns out that both of her daughters had died in a car wreck the month before she messaged me. I asked if I could see a picture of them, and they looked like they could have been my children. So I decided to just mail her that painting, and it really meant a lot. We still stay in contact. A very sweet friendship developed over that.”
Another time after Rick Burgess from The Rick & Bubba Show lost his toddler son, Barclay knew what she wanted to do. “I was absolutely devastated for them, so I decided to paint a portrait of him for them with a fishing rod since I know that is what he was into at the time,” she recalls. “I took it to the studio, and I received such a sweet note from Rick’s wife saying that it is in a prominent place in their home. I heard (Rick) talking on the radio one time about things that were meaningful to him during the time after the loss of their son, and he mentioned the portrait.”
Those are just two examples of the bigger purpose Barclay sees in her work. “Art is meaningful to people,” she says. “There are a lot of things you can do with your talent to move people. For the thousands that I have sold, the mostly meaningful paintings are the ones I have given away.”
No matter the piece though, creating art has shifted Barclay’s perspective in life. “It makes you look at the world differently, taking pictures of color combinations or things that I see,” she says. “It makes me aware of my surroundings. I always take pictures of geometric things, but I feel like you definitely see the world differently.”
Follow Barclay’s art on Instagram @barclaygreshamart or shop at etsy.com/shop/BarclayGresham. You can also reach her at 205-706-6284 and visit her studio at 3133 Belwood Drive by appointment only.