Lisa Barsumian: Elegance Without Complication

Barsumian finds the beauty in the mundane


An amateur painter might assume that as skills improve and the eye sharpens, one’s work will become more detailed and complex. For Lisa Barsumian, however, a long career as a professional artist has been a pathway to simplicity, with clutter stripped away and emphasis given to lines, patterns and the way that light hits the subjects of her paintings and monotype prints.

“Some of my sketches are more detailed than my drawings,” she says, explaining the process as “less is more - it’s editing down to what might be the most important aspect of what you’re looking at.”

Lisa isn’t especially picky about her subjects, with works featuring landscapes, flowers, dogs, chickens and even everyday objects like bicycles and chairs. “I’ve always painted everything and anything,” she says, describing her subjects as more “good excuses” to put pen or brush to paper than compelling in and of themselves.

Lisa’s monotype prints are black and white and highly contrasted, with great attention paid to shading. Her paintings tend to be muted as well, but with care given to the use of color tones. The combination of technique and static subject matter lends a sense of calm to her work, somewhat reflective of changes in her personal life, as well.

Growing up in Connecticut as the child of two respected artists, Lisa never questioned the idea that someone could make a profession out of painting and printing. After graduating from the Art Institute of Boston and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, she spent the early part of her career working the regional art-show circuit, exhibiting and selling her work (mostly painting at the time) and gathering invaluable feedback from customers at events like the annual Wickford Art Festival. Later, her paintings began gracing the walls of venues like the Cooley Gallery in Old Lyme, where she met one especially important customer - her future husband, Tom Farrell.

Lisa traveled widely, spending time in Paris, India, Greece, western Canada, Denver and Virginia while summering in Jamestown, her family’s home-away-from-home. “I took my work and showed it everywhere,” she says, painting and drawing all the while. “The light is different in every place, but it always looked like my work,” recalls Lisa. In India, for example, she used greytones to “make sense” of the bright madras colors she saw.
An initial love of printmaking gave way to the “immediacy of painting,” and for three decades that was her primary medium as she pursued a career as a painter in Paris and raised two sons, James, 21, and Aiden, 19. Over time, her painting trended toward greater simplicity, sometimes absent of color completely.

Shortly after her mother passed away in 2009, Lisa bought a 40-year-old Dutch printing press and decided to rekindle her romance with printmaking; today, she splits her time between printing and painting - the press sits on one end of her studio, her easel on the other.

That studio will soon be transported from Paris to Jamestown, where she and Tom were married at the third of the “three sisters” homes and the couple now own an 1892 Victorian waterfront home of their own. The move from the urban bustle of Paris to the laid-back pace of Jamestown has been a long time coming, she says, though it’s far from retirement. Barsumian has been busy working and is mounting an exhibit in June and July at the Jamestown Arts Center, where she also spends time working on the printing press there.

“There’s a real sense of community here, and gorgeous scenery everywhere you look,” says Lisa of Jamestown. “The gallery is beautiful, and I have an incredible urge to fill its walls.”

Recent Work: Paintings & Monotypes. Jamestown Art Center June 6-July 10. 18 Valley Street Jamestown.