Seaside Sensation

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Imperial Beach artist Michael Barrows is a commissioned sculptor, tattoo talent, and SWC SODA winner.

Time is valuable, but unlike most currencies, it is not something that you may earn back once it is spent. For an average college student it can be a great feat to budget time between classes, work and personal life or social gatherings, but for Michael Barrows, Southwestern College’s Leonardo da Vinci, financing time has become his master craft.

Barrows is a 30-year-old arts major. After his initiation into the police force was halted for personal reasons, his wife Roxana and cousin Josh Barrows convinced him to enroll at SWC. In June of 2007 Barrows walked onto campus and did just that. Since then, he has been building theater sets, producing meaningful art and has found his way into the English curriculum, all while maintaining a 4.0 GPA with honors.

“He does an incredible job at understanding what he doesn’t know,” said Bruce Smith, Professor of Mathematics, Science and Engineering at SWC. “He asks questions to obtain the knowledge to be solid and I think at times he underestimates how solid he is.”

In his first year at SWC Barrows received recognition for an essay titled “The Odds of Getting It.”

“It’s pretty much about how there are three ways of ‘getting it’,” said Barrows. “There are those who get it right away, those who take a little bit of time, but eventually get it and there are those who never get it, no matter how hard they try.”

After being persuaded to submit his essay to the school, Barrows found his writing as part of SWC’s English 114 learning curriculum packet. In that same year, he landed a job working on set construction at Mayan Hall and remains an active employee to this day.

In April of 2008, Barrows and partner artists were granted $1,500 to build a peace sign 40 feet in diameter that people could walk through and experience different peace-inspired art displays for the SWC Peacefest.

In May of that year Barrows designed an art piece for Professor of Arts Marisol Rendon’s installation and site-specific art class, which would go on to be chosen for the San Diego Port Commission’s Urban Trees exhibit along the Embarcadero .

“He was chosen out hundreds of people in the country,” said Rendon.  “Urban Tree goes for the idea and his idea was very urban and contemporary in terms of representation. It was really well done, because he understands material and knows how to work with them.”

Barrows received $2,500 to bring his concept to life and was contacted to have the sculpture later put on display on the Coronado bay front.

Barrows was able to put together his own exhibit, “When Mind Meets Matter,” in 2009. In the show, he displayed his art in all forms, from drawings, paintings and sculptures.

“I try to push art in any way I can,” says Barrows.

His relationship with the fellow students and professors at the college go beyond his art and personal goals, he has participated in voluntary tutoring for math and geography as well as helping art students with their work by giving them advice and moral support. He was also an active supporter in the SWC free speech and budget crisis protests. SWC Professor of Art History Cynthia Gott helped Barrows land a gig as a member of the Sand Castles judging committee in Imperial Beach, the city where Barrows was born and raised.

In 2010 Barrows received the college’s highest recognition, the Student of Distinction Award (SODA), given annually to 20 students out of the entire SWC student population for their outstanding performance both academically and socially. Barrows was the only arts major to receive the SODA that year.

Barrows juggles two part-time jobs. The first being Giant Pizza King where he has worked on and off since he was 18 years old, the second at Big 5 Sporting Goods, a gig he landed after painting a Winnie the Pooh mural for a friend. Barrows admits that with everything on his plate, things do get rough.

“It seems that when life gets hard, it only gets better,” says Barrows. “But sometimes that shiny penny comes out of the mud.”

Behind most hard-working individuals there is a heavy motivational force. For Barrows it is his wife of 10 years, Roxana, and his two children, Alyssa and Ariana.

This February Barrows and his cousin Josh started JusBcuz Ink, an independent tattooing business. Barrows got into tattooing after his wife bought him his first tattoo gun. It was not long before he tried his hand at the art, practicing on friends and family members who were willing to help him to expand his repertoire of skills. JusBcuz Ink gets its name from Michael and Josh themselves.

“It’s JusBcuz ink because it’s just Barrows cousins,” said Barrows.

They receive a number of their clientele through word of mouth, their website as well as their personal Facebook pages. The cousins have even received potential customers outside of the country and hope to expand their business when Josh moves to Oregon.

A tattoo art exhibit is in the works featuring Barrows and another artist. Barrows said he was excited over the exhibit as it will be held after he has finished his last semester at SWC, his “second home.”

“If there is one thing I could say,” said Barrows, “it’s thank you Southwestern College!”

Barrows said he hopes to one day give back by becoming a teacher himself. He shows a great deal of passion for teaching and hopes that he could give up-and-coming artists a direction that will lead them to where they want to be.

To view on Michael Barrows’ work, visit his website.

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