A Barbarian Magnum Opus:
Conversation with Artist Levi Morales,
Abraham & Sebastian Lara
By Jay Sanchez
Dos Mexico Americanos y un Venezolano have been dreaming of creating a body of work that will forever define what being a Barbarian is all about. Artist Abraham Lara, Sebastian Lara, and Levi Morales have been cooking up some magic deep in a forsaken land that many living in the Nashville area still can’t understand… I am speaking of Antioch, Tennessee. Since late 2016, this brotherhood of creative intellectuals has been focused in seeking their inner celestial gift. Their process over the last 5 years will eventually give birth and bless the city of Nashville with a Magnum Opus unlike any other. Los Barbarian have put the creative community at awe with the opening of their grand experience “Keep Dreaming” showing at Zeitgeist gallery all of August. I recently sat down with these 3 genius individuals; they took some time to chop it up with me and kick conversation on their young creative minds, overcoming cultural challenges, their inner passion, and why religion has deep inspiration in their work. If you didn’t know, you will now know about the power and genius of Abraham, Sebastian, and Levi A.K.A. Barbarian…
Raw, Uncensored, Unapologetic…
Barbarian /barberean/ Noun
(in ancient times) A member of a community or tribe not belonging to one of the great civilizations.
JAY SANCHEZ: Conversations are all about timing brothers; I truly believe the timing for this conversation couldn’t be more perfect than now. Let’s start this conversation by taking the reader back in time to a period of inspiration, those magical early beginnings.
ABRAHAM: I can speak for Sebastian and myself, we were both born here in Nashville and lived in Antioch all our lives. Our parents immigrated from Mexico in the early 90’s looking for greater opportunity at a better life.
LEVI: I was like 3 years old when my family left Venezuela for the United States. We arrived in Minnesota first, but eventually settled in the Middle Tennessee area.
JAY SANCHEZ: Where exactly did you live once you moved to TN?
LEVI: I lived in Smyrna bro.
JAY SANCHEZ: Did you 3 grow up together? Were you all creating together at a young age?
SEBASTIAN: Sort of man. We all went to the same church for a lot of years, I still remember leaving church inspired and we would get together to create things and just have fun. Our parents were creatives, so Abe and I always had that creative energy growing up
ABRAHAM: I remember we would also make YouTube videos. We also played music in church together. I was on the bass, Sebastian on drums, and Levi on the keys. We always did creative things, but our aspirations as creatives were not quite there.
LEVI: If you left a magazine or book unattended, I was drawing all up in it. I always enjoyed creating something as a kid. There was something very energizing about that entire experience.
JAY SANCHEZ: Tell me about the moment when you all realize you wanted to pursue a career in Art? The moment when you 3 realize that you were artistically inclined.
ABE: Room 1401 man; Art class with Mr. Guy. This class gave me the courage to believe in myself, this class inspired me to go to Watkins to further my education in Art.
LEVI: I guess I accepted being an artist when I was kid. I wanted to invent stuff. I always wanted to create things. I would like to do little all sorts of creative things tell my mom like “I’m doing science projects.” I was always doing little experiments with colors and stuff like that. I was always eager to create, as a kid that’s kind of always allowed. “And then as you get older, that was no longer allowed. You now must focus on becoming a doctor or some shit.”
SEBASTIAN: Bro, I remember when Abe and I broke the news to our parents about pursuing Art as a career. They were disappointed and upset bro. Abe took most of the heat for pursuing this path, our parents felt that creating was just a hobby and not a way to pay the bills.
ABE: Yea man, their reaction just gave me more fuel to become a creative and walk this road with purpose. “I believed that one day something was going to make them believers.”
JAY SANCHEZ: Sounds like you all had doubters from the very beginning. Takes us to the birth of and creation of what is known as Barbarian?
ALL 3: Oh shit man… Bro…Yeah…
ABE: 11/3/16… This is the date barbarian was born.
LEVI: I remember wanting to create something greater. I had to take a year off school and just work my ass off so I can afford going back. I remember taking that time off and was like “I still have this creative juice flowing.” Like I have this fuel and I’m not going to let this job or this the fact that I’m not going to school stop me. So, I started making t shirts and selling them online. While hanging in my garage I brought the idea to the guys of becoming something that went against the grain. As Latinos we’re always fighting for more, this felt good at the time of creation, and we resonated with that. This comes from the feeling of not being American enough and not being Latino enough. Barbarian is about not belonging, but always belonging to something.
JAY SANCHEZ: Fuck that’s dope bro! I can totally relate to that absolute feeling myself. It’s insane how belonging to something can create a greater feeling within.
ABE: Totally bro, we are members of a community that doesn’t belong to anything. We are a record label, we’re a clothing brand, we’re individual artist, we are collectively creating together. I remember having our own shows in our neighborhood, a big shout out to our buddy Gil for hosting our first art crawl in his garage.
JAY SANCHEZ: I feel that brother. YO Sebastian, wake your ass up bro (laughs)
SEBASTIAN: I’m here brother, just soaking in this beautiful conversation (laughs) I’m loving this.
JS: Go ahead and define who Sebastian is? What inspires you? The same for you Abe and Levi.
SEBASTIAN: That’s a good question bro! I’ll keep it brief, the life that I’m living in the moment inspires me deeply. An artist creating any piece of work is inspirational to me, it pushes me to continue creating. Galleries and the pieces hanging on those walls are very inspirational to me. Tyler the Creator and Prince play a big role in me finding
creativity right now, Jean Dubuffet has touched me deeply and is very influential in what I’m currently creating. His work just makes you stop and admire everything flowing and Prince has the power of making anyone just be at awe. I want my work to have that same feeling with all individuals.
ABE: When I think of art, that shit really moves me man. “Art where I feel addressed personally” and I feel seen like I can relate to some level, whether it’s music or a movie or a TV show or whatever it is. I feel inspired when I feel moved emotionally. I remember one time we took a trip to Pittsburgh to visit some galleries, we were looking at this piece with religious images all over the wall and this other piece with a
bunch of like medicine pills. Bro looking at this image just relaxed me and made me cry, tears just flowing with ease. “Feelings that I haven’t addressed personally resurfaced,” that shit alone was very inspirational. Friendship is a big inspiration as well. Levi working on a piece or seeing what Sebastian’s working on. Sometimes Sebastian will show me a piece or play me a song he’s been working on, and I’ll be like “bro what the fuck” just full of inspiration. Artists that I currently find inspiration from are The 1975, Kendrick Lamar, and Callen Schaub.
LEVI: What inspires me are the things that I grew up with; my culture, being a Hispanic/Latino here in America. As I’m getting older, I’m seeing more and more and just pulling from that. Growing up I really wasn’t proud of my roots or culture because it came with so many shortcomings, not being able to go to school because I wasn’t born here. Having to pay out of state tuition plus I couldn’t get the financial aid necessary to further my college education. This and so many other roadblocks in life have ignited creativity on so many levels. I’m drawn to creatives like Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali; these creatives pushed the envelope visually and culturally. They made me realize that art doesn’t have a race or gender, instead it has power to create change and break barriers.
JS: The hunger for more seems to resonate deeply within Barbarian. That raw feeling was always a part of my upbringing in a Salvatrucha (Salvadoran) home back in Los Angeles. Now, second hand used items or clothing were also a vital aspect of growing up in a Latino household. Tell the reader why “upcycling” is so important to you all? Why does it play it major role in your work?
ABE: “Upcycling” is so important to what Barbarian is all about. As creatives we take pride, yet we are completely mindful how fucked up it is in adding more waste to this planet. “We find beauty in the discarded.” It all starts from the grassroots of where we come from, just reusing what we’ve already got.
LEVI: I’m drawn to see the potential in upcycling a t shirt, a piece of furniture, or even a piece of carboard. Just about everything we buy in stores these days comes in a box and our society has enabled us to simply discard and just move along. This can also be said with the way we treat one another in this world, there’s beauty in everything and everyone.
JS: I love what you guys are pushing with this upcycling movement, it’s important that when we leave this earth it’s left in a better state than before. You guys touched on your work and the importance of upcycling. Let’s talk music; Tell the reader about the inspiration behind the Barbarian sound.
SEBASTIAN: Our parents are musicians; we were exposed to music from a young age. Church also played a major role because I can still remember seeing performers on stage and me thinking they were stars, I wanted to be a star as well.
ABE: Sebastian got the ball rolling by having the guts to drop an album back in 2020 during the pandemic. We’ve always been creating music and putting it out to the world was non-existent at that point. He dropped The Truth, for which I created the album cover. I was then inspired to drop Upside Down and Learning How to Dance-EP. Church played a major role in that musical inspiration, but more importantly it introduced us to creating sounds. Creating music has the same feeling of creating a piece of art, clothing, or even a poster. There are many times when I feel like expressing myself through music. The magic behind that process is one that we’re wanting to incorporate more into our work.
JS: Would you all say that church has played a major role in the creative process behind Barbarian?
ABE: Yes, there’s definitely a connection to church. Our process is about touching the soul. What we’re attempting to accomplish is something greater than the normal, very similar to the church concept.
SEBASTIAN: Church brought us together, it created the opportunity to come together as creatives.
LEVI: “As much as I hate to say it, church did become a part of the creative inspiration behind Barbarian.”
JS: Would you like to elaborate on that?
LEVI: That’s an entirely different conversation bro. The scars created in that space are the inspiration to deprogram ourselves from a state of mind that was not of our world. Barbarian is very representative of who we are.
JS: Let’s speak about the hottest show in WeHo right now! Let’s touch on the time leading to ‘Keep Dreaming” The Magnum Opus straight outta Antioch, TN.
SEBASTIAN: Prior to the pandemic we’ve only had one show exhibiting our work. One night I stepped in Zeitgeist gallery for a show a professor was showing. I met Lain York that night, we stayed in contact after that. Not long after we had another conversation where the name Jay Sanchez came up, Lain wanted us to meet this guy for some reason. About 3 weeks later, we get word that we were locked in for an exhibit August of 2022.
ABE: We started 2022 with the plan of creating something regularly with the hopes of selling our creations via our website www.barbarian.studio/. Honestly, we had no idea where this was going to take us. Once we had a date we had to sit down and brainstorm what exactly we wanted to put together. We gave one another space to just create and continue the momentum that had already gotten us this opportunity. The pandemic created this spirit of hope and optimism within us, one major reason why our entire body of work turned out so colorful.
LEVI: It was very important that I voiced to the guys that the narrative we already were infused in continued to be the inspiration behind our work. The flow was already so organic with what we were trying to accomplish. This was something that we’ve been working on for so long, it was so important that those coming out to this experience felt that. A big shoutout to Lain and Jay, we’re very appreciative for this experience.
JS: The years of hard work had paid off my brothers! Congratulations to you 3 on that huge accomplishment. Describe how you guys felt on opening day?
SEBASTIAN: Once we installed all of our pieces all around the gallery I just took a step back in awe; “it was a holy moment for me.”
ABE: We were so thankful to see all sorts of individuals pop up at the gallery, they were going thru our t shirts, looking at our prints, soaking in our pieces on the wall. It was surreal to see my dad walk out the gallery with a Barbarian t shirt on. A full circle moment to see someone who only understood what we’re doing as a possible hobby, to now witness this experience on a grand stage was so amazing. We had different generations show up, everyone was well represented in the entire gallery. This was a unique experience to witness after years of visiting the WeHo art crawls. I can’t wait to see what we’re going to be creating 5-10 years from now. The best is yet to come bro.
JS: I’m not going to ask you guys what’s next because what you all got happening right now is worth living in the moment. The future seems very bright for you 3, the possibilities are endless hermanos. With that said, leave the reader with some final remarks. Something from the heart.
ABE: Hello world! Thank you for coming out to experience this Barbarian journey. “From what I’ve learned thus far; Keep Dreaming, listen to your heart, and love people.”
SEBASTIAN: “The easiest way to live is to be authentic with yourself.”
LEVI: Follow me on IG! (laughs) Nah for real though… “Do not allow painful and traumatic experiences to keep you from something bright and beautiful in your future”
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catch the author Jay on instagram: @ghostguevara