Portrait of an Artist
In the print-making studio at Governors State University, Fermin Barbosa moves with confidence and purpose. Barbosa is a mixed-media artist majoring in Fine Art at GSU. Born in Mexico, the senior has lived in Kankakee since he was two years old. Although he is in college, he’s no beginner. Barbosa has had solo shows and produced a significant body of work in various media, so much that you could wonder why he’s pursuing a degree.
Barbosa says he isn’t looking for validation or certification, although those advantages certainly come along with earning a degree. For him, studying art at GSU is a chance to simply buckle down and do the work. It isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine him postponing his graduation indefinitely just to keep learning new techniques and processes. Barbosa says he deeply appreciates the opportunities he has in the faculty and facilities at GSU. Most of all, though, he just seems like a thoughtful young man cheerfully obsessed with creating a whole lot of art.
One of the things he’s learned at GSU is the discipline and attitude necessary to see things through to completion.
“Earlier on,” he says, “I struggled with finishing pieces. I would just kind of work on them, go real slow, take my time, and now I’ve been trying to force myself to work faster, so I will finish. If I can capture the same quality in the smaller amount of time, then that just makes me a better artist and that’s just more skill that I have.”
The opportunity to work in a wide variety of media has suited his aversion to being pinned down or pigeon-holed.
“I try to morph myself as much as possible,” Barbosa says. “I try to adapt to every situation, every single project—if they want me to change my style, if they want me try something new. I want to be a master of all trades, in a sense. That’s why I consider myself a mixed-media artist. I mess in different mediums—I’m a printmaker, I’m a photographer, a painter, and I make sculptures.”
As is the case with so many of his fellow students, Barbosa goes to GSU full-time and also has a part-time job. When he started his current job, working at the Kankakee Free Library, he was unaware that Michael Costanza, who was already employed there full-time helping patrons learn to use computers, had graduated from GSU with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in art.
The two didn’t discover their mutual GSU connection until Barbosa became involved with Feed Arts and Cultural Center, an art gallery and cooperative in downtown Kankakee. Costanza co-founded and currently directs the organization, which has played an integral role in the renaissance of Kankakee’s downtown area. In recognition of his efforts, the Daily Journal named Costanza the Young Citizen of the Year.
Barbosa’s work at Feed, and his own artistic endeavors, have earned him his own story in the Daily Journal. He performs multiple tasks at the gallery, from finding artists to organizing shows and even advertising. Once again, Barbosa demonstrates that he’s someone who thrives on variety.
Watching Barbosa create, you see that he is comfortable in his surroundings. He works quickly. Is he perhaps just a little bit driven?
“Am I in a hurry?” he asks, and it’s only partly a rhetorical question. “Let me specifically mention printmaking. Like, I don’t have a printmaking studio in Kankakee yet. I don’t have access to these big huge presses that we have here at GSU. So I do feel in a rush to make as much work that revolves around those presses as I can because I am on a limited timeline until I graduate.”
His reluctance to be pinned down and desire to be adept in different media come together in Barbosa’s plans for the future, which—as you might expect—are all over the place. But what comes through is the desire to do it all.
“I like to be well-rounded. I want to become a professor one day, and I can’t really help anybody if I’m not well-rounded. Plus it’s only going to make me better.”