ABOUT ARTISTS KAREN AND TONY BARONE
KAREN & TONY BARONE, the renowned wife & husband artist couple whose works have been exhibited and collected around the world, now reside in Southern California’s Palm Springs Valley in a home and studio compound they call their “paradiso secco” (dry paradise).
Karen & Tony were both born in Chicago where they fell in love, married and established themselves as a creative force. The Barones took a non circuitous route before moving their high voltage creativity to the California desert. They “got their stripes” in New York City’s Soho; then worked from a hillside studio on their horse farm in East Tennessee. They then moved to Los Angeles where they became a powerful artistic presence while working out of their massive canal-side studio in the artist community of Venice Beach.
During those Chicago years, where the two first met on a suburban commuter train heading for the “loop”, the dynamic duo created: The mural dominated “The Brewery” restaurant. The award winning super elegant & sophisticated “Tango” restaurant, tapas bar, and cabaret that is an international award winner for design. The colossal “Zanadu”, a mega-size restaurant & disco. The trend setting “The Great Gritzby’s Flying Food Show”, the winner of multiple design awards. The sleek & fashionable “Jonathan Livingston Seafood.” The entertaining & not-at-all serious Italian restaurant “Lawrence of Oregano”, and many more with the last three being seminal projects for the high-concept restaurateur Richie Melman of the now famous behemoth food service company Lettuce Entertain You.
At the top of their game in Chicago, they decided to, as they say, “start over as virgins” and moved their studio lock, stock & barrel to New York City’s SOHO, the fledgling art capital of the world. They’ve been identified as SOHO pioneers. “We got our stripes in New York,” is the way the Barones describe that period.
They came down from their 4th floor SOHO loft and opened a store that they immodestly called “BARONE.” It was located on West Broadway in the middle of SOHO. The store featured Barone designed products and art. They sold “sybaritic necessities – things no one needed – but had to have.” It was an immediate hit. The Barone store was featured two succeeding years in editions of “Stores of the Year”. The merchandising arm of Federated department stores used the Barones, their SOHO loft & SOHO store, to conduct seminars for their top display and national merchandising people. The store brought the buyers from London’s Top Shop and Galleries Lafayette in Paris after the Barone store was featured in the French magazine “Observateur”, which stated, “When you are in New York, Barone is ‘le must’.” Barone stores and shops followed in Bloomingdales & Macy’s in Manhattan and across the country and ten locations in cities across Japan.
In New York, the Barones continued to mix fine art, public art, functional art, graphic art, commercial art, product design, packaging design, and architectural & space design. To them, much like the Memphis School of Milan, everything can be art. Their studio is like an art & design laboratory. The Barones find themselves as comfortable over a drawing table (Karen has hers, Tony has his, each within 4 feet of each other) as they are in front of an easel or circling a workbench.
As sculptors, Karen & Tony Barone have amassed a “big” reputation for life-size figurative and jumbo larger-than-life objective outdoor & indoor metal sculpture in sparkly & shiny color show-car paints & exotic patina. They make regal & important the things considered ordinary and everyday. Giant blown out-of-scale replicas of everyday kitchen utensils, such as a perfectly proportioned 6 1/2 ft. tall meat clever titled “Dad Was a Butcher.” “East Meets West in the Battle of the Noodle” uses a hyper-realistic 7-foot fork interlocked in battle with a pair of 9-foot wood appearing chopsticks for the attention of a noodle. “Saucy Meatball” is a stunning shiny 8-foot soup ladle serving up an enormous 18” meatball smothered in what appears to be rich red tomato sauce. Bouncing back and forth between styles like a multi-lingual UN interpreter, the self-described “media experimentalists” speak succinctly in each artistic language, communicating within each, a strong sense of composition and fanatic craftsmanship.
The Barones have created huge voluminous pop sculptures representational of small objects that are a part of our everyday life: scissors, wine openers, forks, toy puppy dogs & sandbox toys. In the world of Karen & Tony Barone, these objects become art. An 8-foot double dip ice cream on a waffle sugar cone (“Double Dipping, Double Licking”) and a giant French fry bag pouring 3-foot fries into bright red ketchup (“Dropping Like Fries”) are magical, whimsical & witty art of the mind. They often combine their colossal size utensils with popular foods: a 7 foot fork diving into industrial size macaroni & cheese as well as a giant saucy meatball floating in the bowl of a 9 foot ladle, all attest to the Barones’ credo that “size does matter.”
Architectural design highlights from the Barones include Pal’s Sudden Service, the 27-unit fast food chain that is a recipient of the Baldridge Quality Award from the US Department of Commerce. In addition to designing the Pal’s award winning (The Food Channel’s Wackiest Design in America Award) drive-thru building, they’ve designed the operational and branded graphics along with the award winning menu-board art for “the best managed restaurants in America.” They’ve also created an award winning billboard-advertising campaign for Pal’s. In 2008 the Barones completed work on a sculpture garden/park that fronts Pal’s corporate headquarters and school for quality management. Karen & Tony created 7 “Larger-Than-Life” brightly painted steel sculptures of iconoclastic fast-food images for Pal’s. Each sculpture is set on large concrete and steel 18” high pedestals reaching heights of 7 1/2 to 9 feet and weighing between 200 and 800 pounds.
They’ve created architectural interior design projects. Their architectural interior design projects were primarily commercial spaces; however, one of their residential challenges was an Interior Design Magazine award winner and another was featured on the cover and in the magazine. The magazine recently contacted the Barones to let them know they were assembling their 75th anniversary issue “The Best of Interior Design Magazine” and wanted to include photos of a feature they had run on the Barones loft in SOHO many years ago.
A signature architectural element of the Barones when designing interior public spaces has always been to either magically and superficially re-contour the ceiling or have sculptural elements grown down from the ceiling in a rhythmic stalactite fashion. The Barones believe the ceiling surface to be the largest surface area of any project and the most visible. Designing restaurants, commercial & retail space requires functionally maximizing the footprint. They use the ceiling to create excitement, mood & drama and use the floor space to serve & sell.
Because of the corporate and commercial nature of many of their projects, they tend to have tight budget restrictions. They rely on the clever and creative use of materials and form to dramatize a space rather than dollars for decorating. They might work with exotic patina on steel rather than specify marble and granite.
They’ve designed sets for entertainer/comedienne, Mimi Hines. They’ve designed the giant original flagship location for Bigsby & Kruthers men’s store in Chicago. They’ve created a high concept design package for Birds, a multi-unit women’s boutique with stores throughout Hong Kong where all the fixtures hung from the ceiling – nothing in the entire store touched the floor. They designed a massive 4 story teenage department store called “Fastlane” in Taiwan at Taipei’s busiest intersection.
The globetrotting Barones have created super-cool restaurants & shops throughout Japan, Hong Kong, London, Paris, New York, Stockholm, Florida, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Dallas, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Chicago. They’ve traveled to the fashion capitals of the world meeting with the likes of Christian Lacroix, who said “Karen, Tony, I want to be like you. You are free!” They also met with the presidents of Yves St. Lauren & Louis Vuitton. Luncheons in their honor have been held by Andy Warhol at “The Factory”, and the President of Armani in San Francisco, where they received the “Visionary Award.” Hungarian Television held a State dinner honoring them in Budapest, where the previous honoree was Mikhail Gorbachev. They met Truman Capote, who said, “You two are the most creative people!” They’ve lunched with Peter Max in his New York studio and Stanley Marcus, in a bistro in San Francisco, and were the guests of the CEO of Macy’s for the Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Although best known for their sculpture and paintings which are created on a grand scale, the Barones have put their heads together to conjure up over 200 drawings of the LoveMonsters, androgynous punsters, who get it wrong – every time! The Barones have since developed the LoveMonsters into a limited edition color illustrated book, a single actor play, and animated images on the Internet.
The Barones are creating wonderful jumbo scale sculpture as part of their art in public places ArtAdoption program. The program enlists the private sector to fund public art sculpture that is gifted to cities, parks, schools and animal shelters throughout the Palm Springs valley & around the world.
Karen & Tony possess an incredible imagination. They skillfully create mind-boggling larger-than-life and thought provoking works of art that challenge our sense of scale & spatial reality and place us in an Alice-In-Wonderland state of mind. They make “serious art” that makes you smile.