Bob Barron: Biography

Sometimes the ways and means of making art can come about through serendipity. Driven indoors from a poorly heated studio during a particularly cold winter spell a number of years ago, I made what was to be a temporary abandonment of large oils to create smaller collages using paper. These were made by pressing various textured materials into paint-covered paper to create monoprints.

Most of this material was then discarded. However, I felt the corrugated card I had been using could be exploited as an interesting surface in itself. Consequently, I began making the card/collage works which continued after the move back to my studio.

Barron obviously has a remarkable eye for what is aesthetically right, many completed works being ‘sophisticated, low-toned abstracts possessing something of a Japanese aura’.

Anthony J. Lester, Member of the International Association of Art Critics

The card is collected from various outlets, often after having been broken down and binned. I will then cut or tear and score and scratch the surface further. Oil paint is thinned then poured onto the card and worked in with sponges. When dry I will often sand the surface to reveal the corrugations beneath. Printed images may appear conveying a particular train of thought at the time the work is made. Colour is kept minimal to emphasise the surface and the texture of the work. Various pieces of this card are then shuffled around on a workbench with more than one piece of work in progress at any one time. These card pieces are interchangeable between various works until a decision is finally arrived at and the work is fixed in place.

He facilitates the transmutation of the etched soot stains of the Industrial Revolution on slate that sheltered nameless labouring humankind into landscapes of the infinite. As the great Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid observed, such work fulfills the true function of culture in that it unites the universal with the particular. Moreover, Barron’s artistic achievement is that he renders this union an experiential possibility for those with eyes to see.

Richard Roberts, visiting Emeritus Professor, University of Stirling

I like the idea of working with slate because of the age and nature of the material. Slate is of sedimentary origin, formed from the deposits of minerals collected on the beds of ancient seas millions of years ago. Movement of the Earth’s crust, retreating seas or whatever, have pushed these ancient sea beds to the surface where they are eventually quarried by man to provide shelter from the winds and the rain. All the slate I use has served this purpose and has been eroded and marked by exposure to the elements as well as to man-made pollutants in the atmosphere. I take the slate after it has been discarded, wash away the remaining grime and then varnish to bring out underlying colour and texture before it is etched into or marked in some way then assembled and screwed onto board. What interests me is the journey the slate has taken from the seabed to the quarry, the quarry to the rooftop, and the rooftop to the artwork.

He has obvious gifts as an image maker, as a colourist, and as a technician willing to experiment with various materials and extend his own powers of expression through innovation.

I am struck by the integrity of the man himself; the seriousness of purpose, the unwillingness to compromise in the search for his own unique voice.

John Molony, Former Chief Executive, Federation of British Artists.

If my work is about anything I think it may be an attempt to express vague musings about the passage of time. When I say I think the work may have something to do with this, however, it is because one can never be fully explicit about any work of art; there is always something at one remove, something which can never be quite pinned down. All the constructs we put in place to describe a thought or feeling are simply parts of a map, not the territory. I suppose I am attempting to provide imagery to express these incoherent mental wanderings through certain surfaces and images. I would also like to suggest an otherness outside of a digitised, pixelated electronic world, a glossy advertising culture with an emphasis on instant gratification. I would like to make an art that is the opposite of this. I’m not interested in impact as such but in work that reveals itself over time. However, I live in this world and take advantage of it and don’t want my work to be confused with any airy New Age mysticism.

Subscribing to the Maurice Denis dictum that ‘before being a horse, a nude or some sort of anecdote, a work of art is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order’, first and foremost, I suppose my work is about the materials I use: broken, torn, stained, cracked, scratched or etched into and assembled in a certain order.

Imagery can be culled from all kinds of interests. The references to the stars for instance, reflect a long held interest in astronomy. The circles could be seen as moons, suns, planetary orbits (strictly speaking elliptical), or the curve of space time. Or maybe they’re just circles. The hand prints reference those palaeolithic prints found in the dark recesses of caves alongside man’s first attempts at pictorial representation of his world 25,000 to 30,000 years ago. The footprints reference the tracks made by two individuals on a soft bed of clay which were shortly afterwards filled in by fine volcanic ash and lay undisturbed until they were unearthed 3.5 million years later. If, as it appears, there was a michocondrial Eve who left Africa to populate the world, then these ancient footprints could have led directly to her, and, by extension, to us and our communality.

My artistic interests include the works of the painters Antonio Tapies, Joseph Cornell, Kurt Schwitters, Alberto Burri and certain English painters of the post war period, Ben Nicholson, Victor Pasmore and Prunella Clough. But the seeds for ideas can come from many sources. The appearance of spoons in certain works, for instance, came from T. S. Eliot’s lines from ‘The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock’:

For I have known them all already, known them all -
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons

I tried using coffee spoons but they proved too small, table spoons and soup spoons quite obviously don’t have the same resonance on the page but serve on the slate. Likewise the works entitled ‘The Long Winter of Jean Sibelius’ came about after a concert of his music prompted background reading which revealed that he chose to remain silent for the last thirty years of his life after retiring to his home amid the snows and pines of Finland: an austere period lived out in an austere landscape. These works are not illustrations, however; first and foremost they are what they are.

Writing about Richard Diebenkorn’s ‘Ocean Park’ series of paintings, Robert Hughes wrote: ‘one heard neither the chant of surging millions, nor even the chorus of a movement, but one measured voice , quietly and tersely explaining why this light, this colour, this intrusion of a 30 degree angle into a glazed and modulated field might be valuable in the life of the mind and of feeling’.

I am interested in the life of the mind and of feeling but, neverthelesss, people confronting the work will make of it what they will.