Caribbean Colors:

With a style he likens to The Florida Highwaymen artists, Barry Launius transforms tropical landscapes into works of art

Barry Launius, affectionately known as Popeye, is originally from Jefferson City, MO. He lives in Puerto Morelos with his wife of 30 years, Phyllis, their dog, Charlie, and two cats. I first met Barry and Phyllis, when they and I were still tourists here back in 2007 or so. With his slow Missouri drawl and his laid back style, you could listen to him tell stories forever. I was fortunate enough to spend the better part of the morning with Barry and Phyllis at their home catching up and finding out more about Barry’s favorite form of therapy – painting.

When did you start painting?

18 years ago. Right after I quit drinking. It was kind of a therapy thing, but I had watched my dad paint. He was an oil painter as a hobby, and I always thought, ¨Well, I could probably do that¨. So, when I sobered up, I didn’t know what else to do with my time. I said to myself ¨Let´s try painting¨. I tried water colors because I didn’t want to go through the mess of the oil paint and the turpentine and the cleanup. I was taking the easy way out, but I was doing something different. From the first painting I did, which was horrible and they were for many years, I thought, ¨I’m home¨.

What was the first painting?

I have no idea. But I would just put a piece of blue tape down for a horizon line and go from there. I knew if I could get the ocean straight, anything else I threw in, there was icing on the cake.

Are you completely self-taught?

Absolutely. I mean, I hung around a few other artists after I first started painting. There was a lady, who I am forever grateful for, Kathleen Stroup and she had a gallery and she painted all the time, and I started hanging out down there, and she started selling some of my stuff. This is back in Jefferson City. She kind of believed in me. She listened to me as much as she liked my paintings. It´s just like shooting hoops or swinging a golf club. The more you do it, the better you get. I don’t care who you are or how much talent you’ve got. I do think it´s very important to be passionate about swinging that golf club, about shooting that basketball, about painting. As long as you’re passionate, you’re gonna practice and practice and practice.

Why do you prefer big canvases over smaller watercolors?

I just feel more like a real artist when I do the big works. I´m a little freer…water colors are kind of get the water on the paper…there’s different techniques, so many times you´re directed on where to go next depending on what the paint and the water do. Whereas an acrylic or oil on canvas, you’re committed. Once it’s there, it’s there.

Why are you so drawn towards painting the Caribbean scenes?

I think it holds true for me; you have to have a love of subject. The love of subject dictates what I paint. I might be able to paint a mule deer better than anybody in the world but if I get no enjoyment out of it… I enjoy looking at the Caribbean and the pretty flowers. I´m just more honest with myself doing it that way.

Have you traveled a lot throughout the Caribbean?

Yeah, quite a bit. I briefly taught classes at the Marriott in St. Thomas (in 2001). It was a nice gig. I actually heard some nice compliments years later. A guy I worked with had been at a convention, and he came back and told me he met a man whose wife had taken a watercolor class in St. Thomas when they were on vacation. She’s been painting ever since, and she sells her stuff up in Wisconsin. I went to Belize, and that’s where I got certified to dive. I met someone there who was very instrumental in my career – Lyndsey Hackston. She owns Belizean Arts in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. And I’m still in touch with Lyndsey and she occasionally still buys stuff from me.

How did you make your way to Playa?

We started vacationing in the Riviera Maya in 1987. I think our first trip was to Cozumel. Then we came over to the mainland. The next year we came back and went to Cancun. Next year Cancun again and eventually we just worked our way south. Of course back in the early 90s, Playa was like you always hear..a fishing village. And we just fell in love with it. We considered moving to Belize, but I needed a place that was really, really into tourism. Belize catered more to just divers. I needed a constant inflow of new tourists in order to make my art business work. When the economy was really good, before 2008, we wound up buying a condo in Playa in 2005..preconstruction. We rented it for the first four years when Phyllis retired we decided to live there. We lived there for four years and now we’re in Puerto Morelos.

Do you think you´ll always paint?

Always. I used to carry a quote around with me, and it says something like doing that final masterpiece. Yeah, so that’s what I’m gonna do.

If you are interested in purchasing one of Barry´s paintings, you can contact him through his website or via Facebook/Barry Launius. He also loves to do commission work and in his words, ¨I personally think I’m better at commission work. Although, I don´t do people and very rarely do I do animals¨.  

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Originally from Connecticut in the New England region of the United States, Rebecca has been living in Playa del Carmen for five years. While she misses her big, crazy family back in the States, she doesn´t miss scraping ice and snow off her car in the winter!

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