Scanlan finds art food for body and soul

As the Anoka-Hennepin School District prevention coordinator, Barry Scanlan’s days are filled with either working to avert tragedy or helping students and staff when a crisis occurs.

Barry Scanlan
Barry Scanlan

As a result of this work he finds he puts a lot of stress on himself.

But Scanlan has found a way to help him deal with this stress, although it came in a roundabout way.

In September 2011 a friend left some acrylic paints at his home in Milaca. Since he had a canvas lying around, Scanlan thought he’d give painting a try and did a portrait of former President John F. Kennedy.

Now with about 80 pieces of completed art, Scanlan hasn’t looked back.

“I think about painting every day, everywhere I am,” Scanlan said.

“And if I don’t paint every day, it gnaws at me and I start thinking, ‘why aren’t I painting?’”

While painting is new to Scanlan, he is no stranger to the world of art.

Growing up, Scanlan’s mother drew and painted. Scanlan still has some of her work.

When Scanlan’s mother was a teenager during the Depression, she would create sketches of movie and baseball stars. She would mail the sketches to the stars and ask them to autograph them and mail them back to her.

Many did. Scanlan has 24 of the signed sketches framed hanging in his home.

In 1939, Scanlan’s mother was offered a scholarship to an art school; she turned it down because going to art school was not what women did.

“I think she regretted it her whole life,” Scanlan said. “I think she would have made a great beatnik or bohemian, she was just that kind of person.”

Though he started doodling and drawing when he was four, Scanlan only took one art class in college.

After serving as a Marine, Scanlan graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a double major in written communication and existential literature and worked as a technical writer before working in education.

Even without formal training in 2005, Scanlan’s zine, which is a broad definition for self-published work that is usually reproduced via a photocopier, “True Story!” received a general excellence award from the former magazine, Utne Reader.

“Guaranteed to provoke reading aloud, this charming hand-drawn zine chronicles the adventures of a thoughtful human who enjoys eating garlic, copes with early-morning cat rambunctiousness, and attempts to draw himself on the verge of crying,” is how Utne Reader described Scanlan’s work.

Now it’s Scanlan’s paintings that are getting the attention. He took part in the St. Cloud Art Crawl in June, displaying his work at StudioJeff on St. Germain Street.

Scanlan received a lot of positive feedback for his fauvist style, which uses very bright colors, and some advice, namely don’t take classes.

Superintendent Dennis Carlson, an artist, shared the same advice with Scanlan.

“When I asked Denny if I should take classes to work on my technique he told me no, it would stop my creativity and to just keep doing what I’m doing,” Scanlan said. “I think that’s good advice.”

While Scanlan would like to do more shows and sell more work, his overall plan for his artwork is to just keep doing it.

Scanlan is likely to find encouragement for his art from his family. His wife, Tami Spry, teaches performance studies at St. Cloud State University (SCSU) and also performs and speaks at conferences, while their 22-year-old son, Zeb Scanlan, a student at SCSU, is the lead singer and songwriter for the St. Cloud-based band Jonny Allen.

“Any creative outlet, whether it be art or a physical outlet, is a positive thing to do for any person, especially if they deal with trauma and stress on a daily basis,” Scanlan said.

“Doing art for me is very freeing and is really good for my heart and my soul.”

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