Nearly five decades after emerging as a Pop Artist, Clive Barker continues to make sculptures characterised by themes and techniques drawn from popular mass culture. In contrast to the abstract sculptor’s means of arranging shapes in a process of trial and error in order to create the final form, Barker’s creative process relies purely on intuition, association and memory. Barker’s past is still central to his present work, as 1960s London and New York are brought in to echo his present day mood.
Barker’s 1960’s works celebrated the instant possibilities and freedoms of a transformed society, embodied in chrome-plated bronze casts of the everyday, the banal or kitsch elements of our culture, often through the use of irony. Barker’s choice of materials and their finishes was largely determined by his experience of working with leather and chrome at the Vauxhall Car factory during 1960-61. Whereas the leather directly inspired a group of works during a relatively short period 1963-65, the influence of chrome was a lasting one, leading Barker not only to apply chrome finishes but also to work primarily in polished cast metals for the rest of his life.
During recent years Barker has returned to the highly shiny finishes of his iconic 1960s works and revived that manufactured, shiny and new gift-wrapped feeling which he first marvelled at in New York. As Barker’s technique still imbues his work with the instantaneous feeling indulgence, his current iconography contemplates and investigates the outcome of mass-consumerism proclaimed as the way forward during the heyday of Pop. In addition Barker has introduced a radical new subject matter, placing the artist at the crossroads of West and East, the past and the present, the fame and energy of his youth and the introspective manner of his older self.
Barker’s 1960s and 1970s objects reveal his love of America, where many of his cherished memories were shaped. Repeated viewings of Hollywood Westerns and gangster movies during his childhood years had left a lasting imprint and a longing to visit this seemingly happy world of debonair characters sauntering through the large open apartments of the East Coast. When Barker started showing at the Robert Fraser Gallery in 1965, the possibility of visiting America became a reality. Robert Fraser was a frequent visitor to New York and Los Angeles, and during 1966-1969 showed the works of many American artists including Larry Bell, Dennis Hopper, Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol, Jim Dine and Claes Oldenburg. Fraser’s clientele comprised American film stars and wealthy entrepreneurs.
Barker first visited New York during April-May of 1966 and the American dynamic of youth and freedom, and the relaxed, entrepreneurial attitude to life hit an immediate chord within Barker, who welcomed a change from the restrictions of Post War Britain. Barker stayed with Jenny and Gerald Laing, who introduced him to Tom Wesselman who in turn introduced him to Roy Lichtenstein and the New York art crowd. As such Barker attended Warhol’s ‘Silver Clouds’ exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery (2-27 April 1966) and hung out at the Bianchini gallery where he saw works by Jasper Johns and perspex objects by Robert Watts. Barker had already started casting found objects since 1964 and had come to maturity before his first visit to New York with works such as Van Gogh’s Chair, Morandi Still Life, Table with Drawing Board and Art Box I. Barker’s first-hand experience of New York and its Pop scene had been an exciting revelation and confirmed his chosen direction.
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