Sara Barker

Mary Mary, Glasgow, UK

Sara Barker’s latest solo show, the first in Glasgow gallery Mary Mary’s new, larger space a couple of blocks west from its previous city centre home, is a small surprise. While best known for her usually floor-based sculptural assemblages that combine delicately precarious glass and metal elements with painterly interventions, in ‘The Faces of Older Images’ it is painting that seems to have the upper hand. Perhaps most surprising, given that much of the Glasgow-based artist’s previous use of paint has involved abstract marks and flourishes, the four wall-based reliefs (all 2017) which provide the focal point of this exhibition all feature human figures in hazily defined landscapes. Rendered in thinly applied automotive paint on aluminium sheets folded at the edges to form large industrial-looking trays, these impressionistic works, with their visible brush marks and gestural drips have, as the exhibition’s title hints, the feel of half-glimpsed stories, the clarity of their message faded through time.

While the works’ presence as paintings is strong, that’s not to say that Barker, who studied painting at Glasgow School of Art, has foregone her usual arrangements of metal rods and Perspex cut outs. Here, though, they appear like additional layers of information or some kind of unfathomable puzzle that overlays and complements the evocative if still unspecified narrative of landscape and the human place within it. Figures are both dissected and framed by the tangle of brass and stainless steel squiggles and geometric patterns, each piece exerting an enigmatic presence which is only enhanced by the mysteriously poetic titles.

web_mmg-barks-00196-6.jpg

Sara Barker, 3 fabric figures on the Heath changes the sky, 2017, automotive paint, folded aluminium, stainless steel rod, perspex, 1.8m x 2.4m x 28cm. Courtesy: the artist and Mary Mary, Glasgow; photograph: Max Slaven

Sara Barker, 3 fabric figures on the Heath changes the sky, 2017, automotive paint, folded aluminium, stainless steel rod, perspex, 180 x 240 x 28 cm. Courtesy: the artist, Mary Mary, Glasgow; photographer: Max Slaven

In 3 Fabric Figures on the Heath Changes the Sky, the painted figures are roughly silhouetted in the foreground, their backs to the viewer as they look out over a bucolic rural scene of rolling hills and blue skies; earthy greens, browns and pinkish-reds suggest fields and pathways. The aluminium tray is divided vertically in three, a figure in each section, while horizontal ‘shelves’ slice the image into a series of rectangular compartments, resembling a domestic display cabinet or minimalist shelving system. Protruding from the painting, thin metal rods and two Perspex ‘windows’ add to the sense of distance, of looking in on this scene – of time as a physical space.

The approach is continued in different configurations throughout the exhibition across three of the gallery’s walls. Double Son of Rubble – the largest work at nearly 3 metres high and 2 metres wide – reveals a curving brick wall, two ghostly figures, blurry blocks of muted colour and white spray-paint patches and drips. Here the rods are more regimented and robust, a combination of thicker steel tube and almost-wire brass that provides architectural structure and grid-like order to the composition.

web_mmg-barks-00195-3.jpg

Sara Barker, Down their carved names the rain drop ploughs, 2017, automotive paint, folded aluminium, stainless steel rod, perspex, 1.9m x 2.4m x 28cm. Courtesy: the artist and Mary Mary, Glasgow; photograph: Max Slaven

Sara Barker, Down their carved names the rain drop ploughs, 2017, automotive paint, folded aluminium, stainless steel rod, perspex, 190 x 240 x 28 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Mary Mary Glasgow; photographer: Max Slaven

The most explicitly figurative of the works is also the most beautifully titled: Down Their Carved Names the Rain Drop Ploughs, the last line from the Thomas Hardy poem During Wind and Rain, written in 1917. (Barker often finds inspiration in late Victorian and modernist literature, such as the works of Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein and Amy Lowell.) Two lightly dressed men dominate the painting, their bare feet working some kind of primitive-looking plough. They could be Amazonian tribespeople or farmers in the developing world but the work’s title suggests they are long gone – in Hardy’s poem the raindrop is ploughing the furrow of the ‘carved names’ on a gravestone. Yet there’s ambiguity in the image; they appear both of the past and the present, a confusion of time that is further suggested by the chaotic-looking configuration of metal rods that snake around them. It’s this feeling of the permanence of landscape and our own fleeting place within it that this collection of works most vividly evokes. 

Main image: Sara Barker, Double son of rubble, 2017, automotive paint, folded aluminium, stainless steel & brass rod, perspex, 200 x 290 x 57 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Mary Mary, Glasgow; photograph: Max Slaven

Chris Sharratt is a freelance writer and editor based in Glasgow. 

Issue 191

First published in Issue 191

November - December 2017

Most Read

With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The museum director, who resigned last year, acted with ‘integrity’, an independent report finds
In further news: study finds US film critics overwhelmingly white and male; woman sues father over Basquiat
With the government’s push for the controversial English baccalaureate, why the arts should be an integral part of the...
From Bruce Nauman at the Schaulager to the story of a 1970s artist community in Carona at Weiss Falk, all the shows to...
Sotheby’s and Christie’s say they are dropping the practice of using female-only staff to pose for promotional...
For the annual city-wide art weekender ahead of Basel, the best shows and events to attend around town
For our second report from BB10, ahead of its public opening tomorrow, a focus on KW Institute for Contemporary Art
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
In further news: declining UK museum visitors sees country fall in world rankings; first winner of Turner Prize,...
The Icelandic-Danish artist’s creation in Vejle, Denmark, responds to the tides and surface of the water: both artwork...
In further news: Emperor Constantine’s missing finger discovered in the Louvre; and are Van Gogh’s Sunflowers turning...
The opening of a major new exhibition by Lee Bul was delayed after one of the South Korean artist’s works caught fire
The LA-based painter’s exquisite skewing of Renaissance and biblical scenes at Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London
Lee Bul, Abortion, 1989, performance documentation. Courtesy: the artist and PKM Gallery, Seoul
In a climate of perma-outrage has live art self-censored to live entertainment?

A tribute to the iconic New York journal: a platform through which founder Andy Warhol operated as artist, hustler and...
A distinctively American artist who, along with four neighbourhood contemporaries, changed the course of US painting...
From Assemble’s marbled floor tiles to Peter Zumthor's mixed-media miniatures, Emily King reports from the main...
From Ian White's posthumous retrospective to Lloyd Corporation's film about a cryptocurrency pyramid scheme, what to...
Kimberly Bradley speaks to ‘the German’ curator on the reasons for his early exit from the Austrian institution
In further news: #MeToo flashmob at Venice Architecture Biennale; BBC historian advocates for return of British...
German museums are being pushed to diversify their canons and respond to a globalized world – but is ‘cleaning up’ the...
Sophie Fiennes’s new film Bloodlight and Bami reveals a personal side of the singer as yet unseen 
‘At last there is a communal mechanism for women to call a halt to the demeaning conventions of machismo’
The German artist has put up 18 works for sale to raise money to buy 100 homes
The novelist explored Jewish identity in the US through a lens of frustrated heterosexuality
Artist Jesse Jones, who represented Ireland at last year’s Venice Biennale, on what is at stake in Friday’s Irish...
‘I spend more time being seduced by the void … as a way of energizing my language’: poet Wayne Koestenbaum speaks about...
To experience the music of the composer, who passed away last week at the age of 69, was to hear something tense,...
In a year charged with politicized tensions, mastery of craft trumps truth-to-power commentary
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018