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Joe Barsin’s Blue Angels

Local artist takes you 15,000 feet for this Commissioning Week highlight

Never in real life will you see the Blue Angels as Joe Barsin captures them in his iconic graphic on Bay Weekly’s cover. For the Annapolis artist’s eye encapsulates the whole of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Commissioning Week in a single soaring moment.
    You see it at a glance: the streaking Blue Angels … their intertwined contrails … their long Wednesday show and their Friday flyover of Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium filled for Commissioning … the midshipmen’s covers tossed in the air by the officers newly freed of them.
    And, below it all, the green land … the bridged Severn River, dotted with boats … College Creek crossed by two bridges … the spires of St. Anne’s Church, the Maryland Capitol and the Naval Academy Chapel … Herndon Monument, topped with a cover after the plebes have scaled the greased obelisk to replace the Dixie Cup … and, high on the left, Atria Manresa.
    That landmark waterfront property — now a senior and assisted living community — is included, Barsin explains, because its grounds are generously opened each year to all comers.
    Time is not the only element overcome by the power of art. Space, too, is at Barsin’s command, for his viewpoint is some 15,000 feet above sea level, where the pilot-plane duo known as Opposing Solo climbs for its vertical roll. You’d have to go climbing in Southeastern Alaska’s St. Elias Mountains to look down into the F/A 18 Hornet’s cockpit onto the helmet of the pilot reaching that summit. Below it, three other blue and gold U.S. Navy planes fan to the points of the compass.
    “I had seen the famous photos of the planes, of the hats in the air,” Barsin told Bay Weekly of the genesis of his image back in 2012. “But I didn’t want to do just an illustration of a photo. I wanted a fresh image. So I created an environment that cannot be photographed, from a perspective above the airplanes.”
    Just as amazing as the image is its making, for Barsin’s tool is a mouse and his canvas an Apple monitor. Using the Illustrator program, he adds color and its gradation, piling up more layers than a Smith Island Cake.
    “I’ve spent years doing this,” he says, “to try to tell a story all in one image, as one moment in time.”
    In his third decade since taking computer graphics to hand as an art student at Kent State University, Barsin still gets a kick out of rearranging the world.
    “I use fun visual tricks to bring it together, the covers thrown in the air, imagining the vortex of the jets sucking them up, making it whimsical and ­symbolic,” he said.
    You wouldn’t know, would you, why it takes your breath away?
    That’s the artist’s secret, Barsin says: “My goal as an artist is to make an image people look at and like without knowing why. It’s my job to know why, and when I really succeed, as in this poster where the story comes together, that’s what gets me loving what I do.”
    Meet Barsin and buy his Blue Angels poster at Atria Manresa during the Blue Angels demonstration Wednesday, May 25. Arrive very early for the 1pm show.