Plastic Man: The Artful Life of Jerry Ross Barrish

“Michelangelo said the rocks speak to him. Well, this plastic stuff speaks to me,” says Jerry Ross Barrish in this inspiring documentary about the unorthodox San Francisco–based artist and former pioneering independent filmmaker. Working with found plastic—trash, essentially—since 1989, Barrish has created sculptures with the empathic whimsy of Alexander Calder or Pablo Picasso. Now in his 70s, he enjoys powerful friends in the art world, from curators to critics, many featured in the film. Yet he struggles for success. Evidently plastic is too cheap for the best galleries. Friends urge him to cast his work in bronze. But can Barrish make concessions for commercial success? As the movie reveals, sculpting is just one facet of his free-spirited life. Barrish grew up the dyslexic son of a mob-connected Chicago boxer and worked for 40 years as a bail bondsman, becoming the bailout guy for many radical ’60s protestors. He jokes that his Jewish faith has made him a pessimist. But he’s enjoyed a successful run doing what felt right, and now he weighs whether to tackle his first bronze commission. Too often art documentaries treat their subjects with reverent distance, but Barrish’s infectious charm will make you want to pick up a pencil and start drawing.
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