Barker’s aliens

Schwa instigator Bill Barker has turned up, having responded to Mark Frauenfelder’s “where are you, Bill?” post at bOING bOING. Gareth Branwyn spoke with him – Bill’s doing well, and planning a new project.

What was Schwa? From the Wikipedia article:

Schwa is the underground conceptual artwork of Bill Barker (born 1957). Barker draws deceptively simple black and white stick figures and oblong alien ships. However the artwork is not about the aliens: it is about how people react to the presence of the aliens and Barker uses them as a metaphor for foreign and unknown ideas. Schwa became an underground hit in the 1990s.

I suppose that’s correct from someone’s perspective, and it gives you an idea. How accurate can you be about the “meaning” of art? I have a Schwa sticker on my laptop that says “Every picture tells a lie,” and another on my car (see above) that says “You are what you see!” Are those about “foreign and unknown ideas?” I think they’re remarkable koans, still puzzling after 15 years.

One recurrent Schwa theme was about alien presences and detection. I have a glow-in-the-dark Schwa t-shirt that says “ALIEN DETECTOR: the XenonTM coated figure above [the archetypal alien image, shaped like a guitar pick with almond-shaped eyes and no mouth] will flash red in the presence of any alien.” Schwa scwhag often counseled you to “STAY AWAKE,” aliens are in your midst. I related this to the Buddhist and Gurjieffian notions of being awake, being mindful, and invited Bill to create the cover for FringeWare Review #5, the “Stay Awake” issue, which was generally about consciousness vs that other, ordinary somnambulist state. I always thought Schwa art was meant to shake us awake and aware.

Welcome back, Bill! We could use a good shake about now.

Author: Jon Lebkowsky

Digital culture maven, co-operator, writer, activist, enzyme.

3 thoughts on “Barker’s aliens”

  1. David Sater says:


    Thanks for the shoutout! I’ve been working with William on the new site for the past month and the new domain is it will feature his 3 original books and sneak peeks into a new book that William is working on now!

    If you wanted a good shake, get ready!


  2. Brian says:

    Any updates on William? I’m currently scouring the internet in hopes that he will surface – he was such an inspiration to me and my friends – his insights were amazing and insidious in a good way!!!!

  3. Dave says:

    I was with Bill Barker.. as about 4 days ago on his blue dot ranch he owns .. all well with bill If you want a vintage drawing of His .He has about 1000 vintage drawing he is going to sell off .. So if their is one you liked ? he may still have it… so send me and e mail .. I will give it to bill and have Bill get back to you …If he wants .Note You can not get bill to do anything ..if he does not want to LoL

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