Fri 8 Sep 2023 to Tue 3 Oct 2023
Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 11am-6pm
Artist: Barnaby Barford
Living paintings, light sculpture and benches
David Gill Gallery presents 'A Midsummer Night's Dream’, an exhibition of new works by Barnaby Barford, in which technology and the natural world seamlessly intertwine. Over the past three years, Barford, who works fluidly across sculpture, ceramics, moving image, drawing and painting, has immersed himself in the captivating embrace of Epping Forest, where he has sought solace and inspiration, while reflecting on the passage of time.
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Barnaby Barford often takes on the real world in order to translate it into something quite other in his work. In early projects, he collected found kitsch ceramic figures and used them to tell contemporary stories – cautionary tales around cosmetic surgery, right-wing politics, and the perils of youth, all wreathed in darkness and humour. His 2015 project, shown at the V&A, involved photographing 3000 London shopfronts to create a 6-metre-high ceramic Tower of Babel – a psycho-geographical critique of the consumer landscape. He has celebrated the apple’s central place in human culture, science and myth, in the form of a book, a film and an astonishing full-size tree in metal and plastic bearing bone China fruit; and makes drawings by endlessly repeating and overlaying words to create dense, delirious artworks.
“I make art to make sense of the world and my place within it,” says Barford. Holding a mirror up to society is his raison d’etre, both metaphorically and sometimes as a literal physical object, too. A reflection on Barford’s journey through the forest's winding paths, the exhibition emerged from the peculiar conditions of 2020 onwards, when countless walks in Epping Forest led to him accumulating thousands of photographs of flora and fungi. “I walked miles each day with my German short-haired pointer Ruby and my camera,” says Barford.
“I was interrogating a different kind of London – the well-protected woodlands of the suburbs. Somehow, I am always collecting data, usually in the form of imagery. It is about noticing, looking, and recording, creating a wide net that eventually creates its own argument.”
Many of the images from his intensive walks have been transformed into four large-scale moving-image artworks that the artist calls Living Paintings. They will be shown alongside a series of images of initials, dates and declarations of love gouged into the bark of the forest’s ancient trees, a series of benches, and a light sculpture composed of 9,000 individually crafted celadon-glazed ivy leaves, which will throw a dappled light around the room.
For the Living Paintings, Barford has translated hundreds of his images of natural phenomena into lush, pulsating assemblages that – at various moments – call to mind rococo brushstrokes, Bacon-esque colour rushes or Dutch still lives. Barford overlays the photographs, crafting intricate layers that gradually evolve over a loop lasting an hour and a half. What was once a simple snapshot of nature, hypnotically blossoms into galactic scenes, microscopic realms, and even tribal masks. It is as visually compelling and hypnotic to watch as the accompanying exhibition soundtrack is to the ear, which Barford has made using sounds from the woodland in collaboration with composer Tom Haines. Barford says: "These works are an invitation to slow down, I wanted to create an oasis of calm in contrast to the velocity of the 21st Century life".
As a further invitation to slow down, the artist has designed benches for the exhibition. Reminiscent of his word drawings and cut from steel, they are evocative of tangled branches and the forest’s organic layering. Themes of repetition and abstraction are continued with the tree carvings – or Arborglyphs works.
“So many people have carved their initials or declarations of love into the trees to commemorate a moment, which in Epping are some of the oldest in England, the findable graffiti goes back to 1913 contributing to the forest’s sense of mystery and deep time.” says Barford. He has converted this perversion of the natural world into giclée prints, where names, hearts and jagged pictograms are jumbled in multiple layers.
'A Midsummer Night's Dream’ will transport you to the magical realm of the forest, that has inspired the artist so deeply.