From gang life to a life of creativity: local artist shares his story in hopes of helping others

Calgarian Kale Barr says art is an unwritten language that can appeal to all

By Krista Sylvester | July 18, 2022 |5:00 am

Kale Barr has transitioned from a life of violence to the world of art and is using his platform to help others.

Photo: Submitted

Life looks a lot different these days for Kale Barr who is using his hands for art and creativity instead of a life of violence and gangs. 

The 33-year-old found himself in a gang for nearly 10 years before he pulled himself out and focused on using art to express his trauma and pain. 

Now, the talented artist has worked hard to get to where he is in the art world as a black sheep in the industry who is willing to share his story. He’s had to overcome many challenges while changing his path as many people counted him out and didn’t believe in him. 

Barr also volunteers to work with kids and teens at a behavioural intervention school where he hopes to share his experiences to help others avoid a similar fate. 

As he reflects on his younger days, Barr says he got wrapped in a life of violence by falling in with the wrong kind of people while trying to deal with childhood trauma including sexual abuse. 

“It was also just purely out of the kind of being lost in life and dealing with that trauma that I never confronted,” he says, adding it was an escape from his pain. “It gave me an excuse to not face myself.” 

Fast forward to life after gang life 

While Barr is much happier with life these days, he knows those past experiences are reflected in his artwork at times, which often falls into the abstract category, or popstract, which is the blending of pop art with abstract.

“Something that makes art very special is the aspects of life that are hard and things in life that are a bit heavier, it makes what I’m doing now make sense,” he explains, adding it’s a bittersweet reality. 

“And I can find purpose in that and I can find a way to connect with people that I was never able to connect with before. And I wouldn’t have been able to honestly create the work that I create now, if I didn’t go through those experiences, and if I didn’t confront those.” 

Barr translates a lot of memories, dreams, and hopes into his work. He’s currently working on a new series called “Nightmare.” 

“I still have dreams that will never go away and memories that will never leave me no matter how far I progress forward. But it’s given me the ability to kind of always find a purpose within why those thoughts still linger in my mind,” he says, adding he can articulate those thoughts on canvas.  

“It is a way of telling a different story. I get a lot of peace from that and an understanding of where I am in my life now. And it makes me feel very grounded in my present state right now.”

One of Barr’s pieces.

Paying it forward 

Barr has been to some very dark places in his previous life and knows what it feels like to experience hopelessness and despair. 

He recently started working with kids from Grade 3 to Grade 9 coming from sexual abuse, physical abuse, mental illness, and gangs at a behavioural intervention school. 

“My whole point in advocating for this is we’re lost in this idea that life has to be perfect. And we’re kind of told that there are steps in traditional processes that we’re supposed to go through life to be successful,” Barr explains, adding he wants to share his experiences to help others. 

“People need to understand that life is imperfect.”  

Barr says you’ve “got to be your biggest fan” while discovering your purpose in life. 

“But that only comes from taking ownership of your life. And taking those steps forward, even if it’s one step forward, 10 steps backwards,” he says, adding that’s where the power of art comes in. 

“It’s an unwritten language. And it doesn’t matter what language you speak, what religion you are, what your political standpoint is. It’s something that makes us feel something.”

Another one of Kale Barr’s works


Where you can find Barr’s work 

Inspired by Jackson Pollock, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and George Condo, Barr uses a unique blend of colour layering that utilizes acrylic and oil paint with wild yet calculated paint splashes. 

His work has been described as inviting the viewer into his raw yet animated world of swirling colour and dark chaos. 

Barr’s work is represented across Europe, Asia, and Canada, including in his Calgary art dealer Allison Thompson’s gallery, as well as at the McQueen Agency, The Yudian Art Gallery, at ARTME Limited Edition, and most recently in The Dark Arts YYC

You can follow Barr on his Instagram for his latest updates. His next solo show, Dreamlike, runs from July 22 to 25 at Más Studios, located at 812A – 16 Ave SW. Curated by Allison Thompson of AT Art & Interiors, the exhibition is a review of how Barr’s work interprets the relationship between nightmares and realistic visions from childhood into adulthood, translating his vivid mental images onto canvas.

The exhibition is open to the public, but those wanting a private viewing can contact Alison Thompson. 

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Krista Sylvester

Managing Editor at Calgary Citizen

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