Title: Artist and Handyman
Awards: Best in Show, Academy Center of the Arts Juried Art Exhibition (April 2015)
Before we jump into your current life as an artist, tell us a little bit about your childhood.
I grew up in Virginia Beach, in Norfolk—around those areas. Just a poor kid from the inner city. I did horrible in school—failed at everything. I dropped out in 7th grade and went to work like most kids do where I come from.
You are becoming well known in Lynchburg for your sculptures made from recycled materials. Do you remember the first time you turned “trash” into treasure?
Since we were poor, I didn’t have toys. I would go into the trash and find things and make them. I remember being 4 or 5 years old. I had a G.I. Joe guy, but I had no vehicle. So, I found some toilet paper rolls and made my own tank.
At what point along the way did you realize your pieces were not just a hobby—but an art form?
It gradually evolved. It started with toys, then I started building bigger things as I got older. I built houses for people, then built cars. And it kept growing.
And you had a handful of jobs over the years that helped improve your craft?
Right. They were all construction and labor-type jobs. Interior and exterior work on homes. Landscaping. My art really does come from my work.
How would you describe your career now?
I’m a full-time handyman and artist. I just do what I do for the day—always something different. For about seven years, I’ve been committed to my art. I work as a handyman for the minimal amount of hours I can to eat and pay the bills so I can keep making art.
Tell me about a few of your favorite pieces.
Well, the horses I make are the best sellers. But for me, I don’t have one certain piece that’s my favorite. I put part of myself into my art so each piece has meaning and is original and is important to me. Even though they are made from trash, I treat them like they are glass.
How long does it take to complete each piece?
It just depends. I’ve had pieces take anywhere from a week up to three months. Depends on the size. And sometimes it takes so long because I have to find the right element to add to a piece.
What is your favorite “medium”? What inspires you?
None of them… and all of them. All of my sculptures are built from my imagination and dreams. I call myself a “magnet to media” because the things I need to make a sculpture just come to me.
You have a nickname “Bartertown Bobby.” Can you explain where that came from?
It has a lot of meaning. To start with, it’s my stage name… my name as an artist. The meaning is…I’m a drifter and a wanderer. I’ve never really had a home or have been accepted. I wanted to have my own town so I created one. Kind of like a place where I’m welcome and people like me, even if I’m the only one.
You have a unique lifestyle to go along with your unique art. Can you explain the story behind the teepee at your house?
I live in that teepee. Most of my art comes from thoughts of my childhood and my imagination so I try to apply that to my life. A teepee is what every boy wants to live in. I also have Native American lineage, and I enjoy having contact with nature and the environment.
Moving forward, are there any other types of art you want to learn?
I want to taste all flavors. I want to try all types of art. I have a million plans. Street art is one of them. I’m also interested in starting up mobile art galleries. I really want to show people that it’s all right to be an artist and take a chance on yourself.
What’s next for you in your journey?
More participation in the community. Taking part in the community as an artist and as myself, trying to be accepted and show acceptance. It’s not about the money, not about things I can sell but about giving from the gift. I hope to show that you can make a life from art, by living my art and all the aspects of it.
How can readers get in touch with you?
They can call or text me at (434) 544-1182. I also keep in touch with the community on Facebook and on Instagram (@barter_town_bobby).