Garry Barker is, in the words of Lester Drake, Director at Assembly House, a ‘cult figure’ within the Leeds art scene and his socio-political investigations are highly esteemed. His latest exhibition of drawings at Assembly House was born of weighty subject matter – the ‘emotional and intellectual conflict’ Barker experiences in relation to the foreboding shifting sands of the modern world.
Barker began by eruditely questioning the notion of image making, and its irrelevance in contemporary art practice. His riposte to this uncomfortable claim provided the conceptual depth to his work: words in isolation seem insufficient – they are too restrictive, too easily spun. The allegorical drawings in the exhibition allowed him to subconsciously wade his way through this word/image dichotomy and document his process of conflict resolution between form and text.
If the titles of the works gently alluded to socio-political ideology , e.g. ‘I stand in deep mire, where there is no sinking’, ‘This is why your science is failing’, then the drawings themselves plunged the viewer into sensory overload. Thought provoking and meticulously executed, they were highly unnerving, rich in fantasy and filled with dystopian dreams. Figures were captured in mid air as if they have been tipped out of sinister buildings in the sky; vague skyscrapers protruded through the clouds; unsexed, headless forms darted about as if fleeing from some insipid terror while others morphed into tree branches or were eaten by pigs. But the pigs weren’t just gluttonous; in a Huxlonian vision they were depicted dancing and reading texts. Intriguingly, a deck of printed cards (‘Cards of Identity’) encouraged the viewer to intersect these stories and form their own tarot; mirroring the escaped narrative of figures who had made their way onto the ceramics and wallpaper.
Standing in front of one of the large tapestry-like drawings which depicted a journey down through the urban sprawl into the quasi – rural hellscape below, the viewer could not help but think that The Filth Dimension was so deeply infused with political, psychological, philosophical and sexual overtones that all the stories were told very well, without words.
Upcoming projects at Assembly House can be found here.
Paul Bramley is a painter, writer and curator based in York.
Image: Gary Barker, Still Reaching for the Floating City, 2015. Pen, ink and watercolour. Courtesy Assembly House.