Monday, 26 June 2017


I've just bought an old copy of the 'Picasso's Sketchbooks' exhibition catalogue. The book has facsimiles of six complete sketchbooks and fragments of 36 others. I used to have one which I bought back in the 1980s, lent it to someone and it never returned. What I thought was interesting when returning to go through these images was how little writing he did. All his thinking is visual, each page represents a search for an alternative resolution to a visual problem, and I think there is a strong lesson to be learnt here. Sometimes students feel they have to annotate everything in their sketchbooks in order to justify their decision making. However if the mind is thinking visually, stopping to write can often hold back the visual invention as the brain is having to switch between different modes of thinking. This doesn't mean that  artists should not write, Picasso and many others have written wonderful poetry, but that artists have to be careful to not compromise one way of thinking by muddling it up with another.

Ex LCA student Henry Moore's sketchbooks are not as wide ranging in approach as Picasso's but are similar in that they concentrate on solving visual ideas. However some sketchbooks are about finding ideas from direct observation and others about free form invention. 
The famous shelter or sheep sketchbooks are reflections on 3D form as much as they are records of observed events, once again we have an artist looking at the world and selecting out of it that information that supports their aesthetic vision.

Henry Moore

However many of Moore's sketchbooks are more like Picasso's, he is looking for a range of visual solutions to a problem and works images through as variations on a theme.

Henry Moore
As always there are alternative arguments and at first sight Edward Hopper's notebooks seem to suggest that he is writing to support his visual thinking, but when you read the text you realise these drawings are done after the event so to speak, they are documents of work done. The notebook as document of practice is something that has become more prevalent recently, as several artists have begun to use the document of practice as their actual practice. It is in Hopper's work I see the initial germ of this idea emerging.

If you want to follow this thread the best thing to do is click this link to


Perhaps an alternative approach is that of Dieter Roth. He used the diary format to reflect on his life, interweaving selections from these diaries into his work, making almost direct translations from them and creating copybooks from them using Xerox. Each page becomes an intense interaction between word and image, he often used water soluble ink as he wrote so that when the paper was dampened ink would bleed and spread, the writing then becoming more visually akin to other types of mark making. At the same time as he made these diaries, alongside them he was collecting every piece of waste less than 1cm thick that he encountered every day in the studio, preserving it in a plastic folder and compiling these into ring binders. His everyday thoughts are collected alongside everyday detritus. A concept that I think is very interesting, artists' jottings being valued as much as the dirt and rubbish on the studio floor. This is almost in direct opposition to Picasso who values every page, signing and dating his work as he proceeds, as he obviously believed that at some point in time researchers would value his work so highly that they would want to be able to follow his thinking in sequential detail.

Roth diary pages

Roth daily collection file pages

Dieter Roth: vitrine of notebooks
Roth often used both sides of his paper, so this has given exhibitors a problem, and of course there is an interesting solution.

Dieter Roth
Double sided frames can be really useful and encourage a very different audience engagement with the work. Professional framers, such as John Jones in London, also make double sided hinged frames. However framing and how this can change an audience's engagement with the work is something else and I shall open this out a little more in the next post.

Sketchbook links of interest:

An earlier post on Richard Diebenkorn's sketchbooks.

A link to an article on the Spanish artist and designer Pep Carrio, who set himself a task of making an image a day in his sketchbooks.

Sketch Open

Lucy Lyons makes sketchbooks the focus for her practice 

Friday, 23 June 2017

Garry Barker Exhibition

The exhibition Piscean Promises is being held in the Workshop Press Gallery in Chapeltown. The gallery opens out into the street and everyone will be welcome, neighbours as well as those interested in art. 
The Gallery is at 10 Back Newton Grove, Chapeltown, Leeds, LS7 4HW.
See this link below for details as to how to get there:

The exhibition began as most of my work does by having a conversation with someone. Huge amounts of dead fish were being washed up onto the English shoreline, the person I had been talking to had seen this and it had affected them deeply. 

This was the text given out at the exhibition.

So why Piscean Promises?

It’s about the way people argue with each other, as well as the short-sightedness and myopic nature of human beings. 

But first thecomedy, a joke about fish.

A goldfish has a little castle toy inside its bowl. 
The goldfish swims around and around and around.
Here's what the goldfish thinks.
Hey, there's a castle!
Hey, there's a castle!
Hey, there's a castle!
etc. etc.

I don’t know of any jokes that fish have about humans; so perhaps I have to tell one for them. 
A total of almost 80% of the world's fisheries are fully- to over-exploited, depleted, or in a state of collapse. Worldwide about 90% of the stocks of large predatory fish stocks are already gone. We are losing species as well as entire ecosystems.In 1992 the once thriving Canadian cod fishing industry came to a sudden and full stop when at the start of the fishing season no cod appeared. Overfishing had caused 40.000 people to lose their livelihood and an ecosystem was now in a complete state of decay. The European Union responded by putting in controls on how to fish in EU waters. However British fishermen want to take back control. Recently hundreds of thousands of fish were washed up onto the Cornish beaches, it was horrible said holidaymakers who were put off going onto the beach. Trawlermen sometimes underestimate the size of shoals, this means that they get too many fish in their nets. If this happens, to make sure they are safe from capsizing, a vessel has no choice other than to release the bottom of the net so that the catch falls away. However fish are quite delicate and vulnerable to damage due to the high number of them caught in the net. They are incapacitated as a result of being hauled to the side of the vessel, and when released from the net they are already effectively dead. These sightings are becoming more common as nets get bigger. This sort of ‘embarrassment’ may drive behavioural change within the fishing industry a Government spokesman said. 
The vast majority of fish we eat are not farmed but essentially mined. 
There are 10 natural resources that are critical to the functioning of the U.S. military industrial complex. The extraction of these under the ground resources which form the base on which industrial societies stand, is constructed in many instances through the use or threatened use of armed violence. As a result, armed violence plays a critical role in fostering political destabilisation, environmental degradation and ecological devastation. The ability of wealthy industrial societies to extract vast quantities of natural resources from the earth and get these resources distributed to where they want them also requires complex social arrangements that are instituted, organized, shaped, directed, and controlled by specific organizations, institutions, treaties, and laws, many of which are seen as the ones we should rely on once ‘free’ of the EU regulatory framework, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization. These highly coercive institutions have multiple, often violent, negative, destabilising impacts on individuals, societies, and the environment.               
Over the past 50 years, the average global temperature has increased at the fastest rate in recorded history. 
Everything is connected. 
The tragedy about humans.

Humans go around and around and around and can’t understand the fundamental contradiction between a profit-oriented economic system and long-term environmental sustainability.  They think that the natural world is totally controllable by humans, and that the world is only of value in relation to what it has to offer to humans. The joke is that they always argue that they are right. 

We treat the natural world in the way we do because we have no empathy towards it. We treat ‘others’ in a similar way. 
There is little compassion for those who brave the seas on small boats in search of a life in Britain. There is an atrophy of imagination, further eroded by a right wing press breeding an anxiety that closes minds and shuts our doors in the face of other people. We live in a time of a monstrous betrayal, a time of historical amnesia and a cosy particularly British viciousness. What a miserable, pathetic distortion of the truth is this petty fear of outsiders, what a lamentable head in the sand attitude towards the reality of late capitalism.  
There are no borders to humanity, no difference between ourselves and the rest of nature, only in the minds of the fools and bigots who build them. But still we vote them in. 
This work is allegorical, based on conversations had with many of you and others, a response to the awful dawning of a post Brexit world and a coming Conservative liaison with the DUP climate change deniers. 

Logic has failed us; these images are the product of dreams and unconscious reverie, as something tries to get out before it destroys its host from the inside. Personal associations are linked to images seen and new interpretations are begun. Truth is seen as a construction and part of the rhetoric of temporality, subjective experience being heightened by an awareness of the impossibility of communicating what is intended. Allegorical meaning is seen as an aesthetic form of understanding, rather than something made to affect a change in people’s behavior, which is something they have to do themselves. For this artist allegory is pre-eminently a kind of experience that senses the transitory nature of the world, one that gives an intimation of mortality, but it is also about transforming things into signs, these images are in effect an attempt to look for, ‘signs of the signs’ emerging.

Garry Barker 2017

Individual fish were photographed and made into cards.

The centrepiece of the exhibition was a swirling mass of ceramic fish. Each one had been made by myself and was thought about as an individual ‘portrait’ of a fish. The point being that we never think of fish as individual beings; we only think of them as a mass of undifferentiated things that we have unilaterally decided we have complete control over. Reference the recent arguments over amounts we can fish if we leave the EU. No one ever questions the rights of fish to be fished. 

The drawings ranged from those about masses of dead fish to attempts by human beings to make peace with these usually alien creatures, and in the centre of all these various approaches to come to terms with our difficult relationship with fish was a large drawing that had been done in response to stories about Brexit and immigration and how Leeds itself would be re-shaped in a time of future global warming. 

The final drawing I produced was large and complex, too complex to be photographed, so I developed a different way of recording it. click on this text to go to the image as photographed using a 360 degree rotating camera. You can guide yourself around by clicking on the arrows. 


These large drawings allow me to draw together several story threads and are part of my attempt to mythologise the stories told to me. For instance the graffiti type images of stick figures, drawn as if they are images painted directly on the white cliffs of Southern England, were my response to local Leeds graffiti identifying the edges of gang territory, and applying this to England itself, the white cliffs being Albion, and for many people a sign of being able to 'take back control', i. e. not to let any foreigners in. St Michael also stands on the cliff edge waiting to spear any trespassers. However the island of England is not as beautiful as people might imagine it to be. A boat full of migrants makes its way into the inner area of the drawing and as it does various stories are played out. newly housed immigrants spill out of their accommodation in a modernist tower block, buildings have been reduced to rubble due to war and the type of hostilities we usually only associate with the Middle East. There are refugee camps in England and a wall has been built between US and THEM. The land turns over and encloses the sky and in the countryside fields are inhabited by mutant cows. 

So that people could identify with what was going on, certain details were taken directly from my own drawings of Leeds, in particular those done in the areas surrounding the place where I work and made on my daily walks way to and from the college of art. 

I had also made some prints, which gave me an opportunity to actually sell some of my work as well as to use some colour for a change. In this case the term 'fishfingers' was enough to get my mind thinking about how we wrestle with ourselves and find it hard to accept that we are in fact no different from the fish we happily eat on a Friday. We are as they say, 'what we eat'. 

Part two of this exhibition will be shown in the Leeds College of Art. 'Curator's Choice' will consist of a large glass vitrine hosting layers of ceramic fish. 

See also other posts on exhibitions and my art practice:

When the past overhauls the present Includes link to 360 degree view of exhibition
Drawing it all together
3D thinking Trying to use a 3D printer

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Monumental structures

Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Tower of Babel

Last year when I was making drawings of tower blocks, I began looking around at other artists who were dealing in the same territory. I was looking for images that suggested the power of the modern city, and at the same time I was searching for an idea that would suggest a hollow monument.
Hollow Leeds

For an earlier drawing project I had drawn impossible spirals, an allegory I had decided that referenced the impossibility of certain aspirations, but of course the ideas were related.

Impossible spiral

As I began looking for other drawings I became more and more interested in what the purpose was for these impossible buildings, they all, because they are impossible, are designed to carry messages, and what interested me was that in being so 'impossible' they in some ways carried their messages that much more forcefully.

Gerard Horenbout: Tower of Babel

Athanasius Kircher 1679 Tower of Babel,  

The Tower of Babel comes with it's Biblical story, a story about the hubris of mankind, of our propensity towards self aggrandisement. But it's also about the fact that we find it hard to understand one another because of the proliferation of tongues.
In Russia during the economic recession in the 1970’s communist rule was still in place and architects had little chance to express themselves through their buildings. This repressive situation bred what we now know as the paper architecture movement. In particular the images made by Brodsky & Utkin epitomised for me that ability of the impossible vision to carry messages. 

Tatlin: Drawing for Monument for the Third International

After the Russian Revolution, Tatlin was given a task by Lenin to remove the figurative  tsarist monuments. He proposed an abstract monument 1,300 feet high to commemorate the revolution. It was however never realized, but as an idea it had an enormous influence. Brodsky & Utkin would have been very aware of Tatlin's Tower. During the 1970s 'Paper Architecture' began to produce Utopian architectural proposals that questioned the relationship between the design proposal and realities.  These imaginative proposals by Brodsky & Utkin were perhaps more meaningful and concerned with the human condition, than real buildings. Like Tatlin's, their ideas remain on paper, however a visual idea is still an idea and ideas are powerful things. 

Brodsky & Utkin’s Paper Architecture

Paper architecture was created as a response to the recession in the 1970’s, and a lack of creative freedom under the communist rule. Their drawings were produced as large etchings, images as much about the internal struggle for creativity, as about possibilities for new worlds. 
The concept of making drawings that are both political statements and poetic images has a powerful history, one that is perhaps seen at its most heightened in the work of Etienne-Louis Boullée’s sublime vision of a cenotaph for Sir Isaac Newton.

Etienne-Louis Boullée: Cenotaph for Sir Isaac Newton: Ink and wash

Boullée stated, “In order to execute, it is first necessary to conceive… It is this product of the mind, this process of creation, that constitutes architecture…”  The purpose of his drawings was to envision, to inspire, to visualise a conceptual idea though the geometry of spatial form. His drawings are monumental poetic hymns to the power of the Enlightenment. The wonders of science being raised to a religious and spiritual height, and meant to inspire people to aspire to a higher status. 
The introduction of steel framed building techniques in the late 19th century meant that as the twentieth century unfolded a new type of building could be constructed, buildings that by their very size and height could inspire an idea of what it was to live in a modern city. The city as idea being the logical progression of Boullée's thinking. However, it was soon realised that if architects were to design buildings above a certain height, no light would reach the ground, therefore in 1916 the state of New York set out what were called 'set-back' laws. Hugh Ferris’ architectural drawings that were made to illustrate how the step-back would look, were drawn using very low perspective vanishing points. In order to visualise how these laws would shape new proposed architectural developments, Ferriss used a particular drawing process of blocking out a building’s form in a greasy crayon, using a paper stump to achieve halftones, and producing highlights by erasing, therefore pushing light masses into dark spaces. These drawings have informed our collective unconscious minds as to what futuristic cities should look like and were for myself key images that lay behind the evolution of how I was to shape an imagined other world. 

Hugh Ferris

The Phantom of Liberty: 2016

However Ferris' work was not the only artist I had in mind when I was producing images like the one above.
Cesar Pelli: Indiana Tower 1981

Architects still continue to envision huge monuments for modern cities, such as Cesar Pelli's Indiana concept above and Eero Saarinen's now built, 1948 proposal for St. Louis. 

Eero Saarinen: Drawing of Monumental arch for St. Louis

Eero Saarinen: Monumental arch for St. Louis

The difference of course with the Monumental arch for St. Louis is that it was actually realised. 
A building that is still in the process of being realised, and which has been in construction since 1882 is Gaudi's 'Sagrada Familia' in Barcelona. 

Gaudi: Drawings for the Sagrada Familia

What is interesting about Gaudi's drawings is the introduction of a much more organic idea of growth and natural forms into a construction that is both spiritual and from the earth. This organic ideology, being a concept that would appear to have more and more relevance as we move into the anthropocene, a period whereby human activity has become the dominant influence on the world's climate and environment. Again though what interests me is the fact that a design for a building can be both a proposed reality and an idea at the same time. 

One artist that has used these concepts to reveal a different type of truth is Claes Oldenburg. He uses the ability of a drawing to suggest monumental scale to help us re-see objects that we would normally walk past without a second glance. A dropped ice cream cone, or a peg, when drawn using a low perspective, can appear as large as a building. He forces us to change our 'point of view'. 


Oldenburg's drawings of monumental proposals based on ordinary everyday objects, often rely on that low perspective point to give an effect of the viewer's insignificance in front of a huge structure.  Point of view is key to all these drawings, the artist is controlling the viewer by using a technical system (perspective) designed to build a relationship between the viewer and what is viewed. 

The contemporary British artist Ian Chamberlain draws and makes prints of often disused monuments left over from the Cold War. These monolithic reminders of times of unease such as the Cuban missile crisis, operate as images of lost power. I find it fascinating that Chamberlain doesn't use that very low vanishing point, but gives us images that feel more as if they were initially photographed from distance. The 'distancing' that a camera lens gives, is very different to trying to draw an object of this sort whilst standing directly underneath it. There are no other clues in Chamberlain's work as to size either. Boullée would have included trees in order to give a clue as to size by using comparison.  

Ian Chamberlain: MirrorIII

Reminiscent of Boullée’s Cenotaph for Sir Isaac Newton, this image of a concrete listening mirror uses a language of etched marks to suggest the corrosion and decay of what was once a monumental product of the Cold War imagination, it's more photographic viewpoint chosen I would suggest to document a past fiction, rather than imagine a future ideal.  
Once again we are left with an issue about communication. How do you as an artist control the relationship between yourself and an audience? Is there in an age post the 'death of the author' for an artist any form of control?  Roland Barthes wrote that every artwork is "eternally written here and now", each reader or observer of the work performing a re-reading, the meaning coming from the construction of the language used to make the artefact and its impressions on the reader. Impressions which of course will be based on the particular conceptual framework that the audience brings to the encounter. My own understanding of this is that what I can do as an artist is offer to the reader or viewer a particular construction that has, as far as I can make it, a coherent language of forms that then become open to interpretation, and the more I can make that language coherent the more the audience will be able to make sense of it. What I can't do is work outside of the audience's frame of reference. However the Greek poets understood that certain human traits are common to us all, ideas such as love and death or destiny, arrogance and hubris, these are all concepts that help us define what it is to be human, and as I get older I see that I am more like others who have been before me and less like the individual I thought I was.