Lea Barton is the daughter of Henry Ray Smith and Barbara Ann Gregory Smith and was born on 23 February 1956 in Yazoo City. Barton received a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies from Millsaps College in Jackson (1996) and a master of fine arts degree from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York (1998). She maintains a studio in Flora, Mississippi, where she creates mixed-media collage paintings and works on paper exploring themes related to the history, traditions, politics, and culture of the Deep South. Since 1996 Barton has exhibited her art in institutional collections across the United States, and in 2008 she held her first solo exhibition at Denise Bibro Fine Art in New York City.
After a brief initial exploration of abstraction while at Pratt, Barton’s works began to incorporate imagery and text drawn from the culture of the South and particularly her native Mississippi. Historical and contemporary photographs, quotes from southern writers, text from roadside signs, advertising illustrations, newspaper articles, and comic strips appeared along with similar appropriated material in her collage compositions, first as works on paper, then later in larger format on canvas. Barton’s strategy of juxtaposing seemingly unrelated elements to create a new, unified narrative soon became the hallmark of her art.
Barton is particularly interested in the stereotypical identity and role of the southern woman and how her traditional characteristics are evolving into new ones. Barton often includes her own image in her collages, either as self-portrait or female archetype. Other southern types also populate her works—for example, the southern belle, the debutant, and the evangelical churchgoer. By enlisting her friends and neighbors as models, she infuses her art with a sense of both familiarity and universal appeal.
- René Paul Barilleaux, Correspondence with Lea Barton