Bob Barron

It is a great pleasure to present the exhibition The Art of Bob Barron at Grey College, Durham University. In this exhibition Barron’s work has two distinct mediums – images on reclaimed slate (often incised or imprinted) arranged in interesting compositions and collage works, often on distressed corrugated cardboard. In addition in the series The Long Winter of Jean Sibelius, based on the life of the Finish composer who lived 1865 – 1957, Barron uses painted tree branches together with geometric forms composed in spatial relationships and in monochrome.

Much of Barron’s work which is featured in the present exhibition makes use of slate and I would suggest its associations in our minds of early mark making, as well as its many colours demonstrated here – not just grey or blue. In its natural state slate may be considered silent (indeed the expression ‘to wipe the slate clean’ actually suggests a virgin state arrived at again), as well as hard and flat. Barron has chosen to work with this medium in its element-worn condition, rather than the pristine black unused slate so beloved of craft shops and amateur craft workers. The artist I feel demonstrates that slate can be as attractive on close inspection as marble – or perhaps from this region in particular we could say as Frosterley marble. Very often Barron traces that form seen reflected on a wet stone roof – the full round moon. His incised discs share the same elegant form found in some of Barbara Hepworth’s later lithographs representing sun and moon.

The other challenging and decidedly non-traditional medium Barron has chosen to use as the basis for his work is equally unusual and worthy of mention here as well as inclusion in any exhibition attempting to show a range of this artist’s work. Like slate, cardboard is not something which is regarded as having any intrinsic value whatsoever; quite the reverse, in fact. It is associated with the cheap and the ephemeral or throwaway; it is like an artist choosing to work with cabbage leaves, rags, newspaper, straw or broken bottles. Additionally, for many of the pieces chosen for this exhibition, Barron has further worked on the cardboard, distressing the reclaimed boxes and thereby exposing the corrugated layers beneath the outer surface, much like the wafer layers making up a piece of slate in fact.

Barron’s art reflects an understanding of astronomy and an interest in the long history of human kind. Images representing a vast timeline exposed in fossils are juxtaposed with snapshots of contemporary human lives and images from antiquity. There are foot and hand prints as well as manufactured artefacts like spoons. This makes for very imaginative and original art. The compositions are aesthetically pleasing but also thoughtful and challenging. The underlying intellectual structure of Barron’s art is combined with imagination and spontaneity to present work of integrity and beauty.

This is an important exhibition for the development of fine art in Durham University. I hope viewers will be stimulated and inspired as much as I am.

Henry Dyson
Keeper of Fine Art in the University of Durham and Fellow of Grey College.
February 2013