The Seven Deadly Sins
February - April 2013
Barnaby Barford: ‘The Seven Deadly Sins’
Reflecting on the nature of sin
“I think it’s all about love gone wrong,” says Barnaby Barford, when contemplating the true meaning of the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’. For centuries, the extremes of human desire or motivation have been articulated by the seven words: Pride, Sloth, Gluttony, Wrath, Lust, Envy and Avarice. We now have a new interpretation of those extremes from artist Barnaby Barford.
Barford has spent the last twelve months considering the way society measures and values extreme sensations. “We are all hard-wired to desire power, love, possessions. That’s probably the way all humans have been like,” he says. “It’s not fundamentally bad to desire things but what interests me is the way these ‘sins’ can motivate people. How does the idea of ‘sin’ affect people these days when we live in a largely secular society? What are the consequences?”
In confronting what he sees as uncomfortable truths about contemporary society, Barford decided that the viewers of his work should find themselves not just reflecting on the ideas he has presented to them but also, literally, reflected within the mirror. “You see the piece and you see yourself within it,” he says.
This new body of work, The Seven Deadly Sins, on show at David Gill Gallery www.davidgillgalleries.com from 27 February, is a major departure for an artist who has been renowned for his subversive reworking of small ceramic figurines into witty and deliberately uncomfortable narrative pieces. He graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2002 with a show of exceptional and highly original ceramic sculptures and a video installation and was soon offered representation by David Gill. Gill has always championed Barford, anticipating that he would push his art and his craft to new levels, propelling him into the international arena. More than ever, this new show vindicates Gill’s belief in Barnaby’s evolving artistic style.
David Gill says, “Barnaby’s talent lies in his ability to fuse the visual and narrative elements in his works. His clever choice of titles for his pieces transforms the pieces into the embodiment of ideas which goes far beyond the sculptures themselves.”
Alun Graves, Senior Curator of the Ceramics and Glass Collection at the V&A is an admirer of Barford’s work and selected one of his pieces for the Museum’s collection. He says, “Barford is brilliantly puckish, and something of an agent provocateur. By seduction and guile, his work exposes our inner frailties, prejudices and desires, holding up a mirror to us both metaphorically as well as physically. Few are so incisive and insightful.”
Barford’s interpretation of the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ is beguiling in the sense that the pieces are beautiful but the emotion which is projected is not, in fact, it can be quite visceral and often brutal in its depiction. He is a master-craftsman and sculptor, working in a form and medium which is the product of careful thought and extensive experimentation and development.
Caroline Roux, design journalist says, “Barnaby Barford’s work always has an instant likeability which serves, at first, to hide its darkness or political position. But there’s always something sinister going on beneath the surface - the Seven Deadly Sins being no exception. The beauty of the surface, however, is a key part of the narrative. Barford is much concerned with appearance and what it can conceal.”
Each of the seven pieces takes the form of a mirror. There is nothing modest about these works. Human in scale, most reflect the viewer in full length, challenging their perception in terms of their form and message. The initial response is to marvel at their beauty and delight at the intricate detail which has gone into the construction of each piece. All of the mirrors feature an arrangement of clusters of filigree flowers and foliage. However, when seen close up, the visual message can be surprising since many of the hand-made ceramic flowers and leaves bear the patina of images loaded with emotional messages.
To represent Pride, Barford has created a mirror which demands that the viewer sees themselves in entirety, portrayed like a God, within the curved portal of an icon. This mirror is surrounded by a multitude of flowers in golden clusters which frame the viewer, giving the reflected figure an heroic status. Barford’s interpretation of Pride is his take on the familiar phrase, “If it makes you happy…”, expanding on the notion that pride can be defined by arrogance, defiance, desire for self-fulfilment and self-satisfaction, no matter what impact your desire might have on other people. He was inspired by Henry Fairlie, British political journalist and social critic, who said: “Pride excites us to take too much pleasure in ourselves, but not to take pleasure in our humanity… it causes us to ignore others.”
This, his most political piece, it is about desire for other people’s possessions and the notion that, if they can’t have them then this festering resentment can result in wilful destruction and theft of other people’s property. Barford has used the urban disturbances in London and other UK cities in the summer of 2011 to illustrate this extreme sensation. “What happened during those riots was appalling,” he says, “but you can understand how a sense of injustice, coupled with violent opportunity, can catapult people into a situation when they take what they can, because they can.” He adds, “There’s this idea that people feel an entitlement to enjoy what others have and an irritation that others should enjoy what they don’t have. We are sold the idea of society as being equal,” he says, “and everyone having equal opportunities. But sadly we are simply not equal.” This large oblong mirror is covered with a filigree of creeper, like a lascivious weed which threatens to engulf the entire piece. Each of the leaves bears an image of the riots; hooded youths throwing stones, breaking windows, rampaging in the city streets and confronting the police. The piece’s beauty belies the depressing violence which envy can promote so suddenly in people who believe they can justify criminal behaviour as an aspect of their ‘right’ to possess other people’s goods.
The sharp shape of a mirrored star sits at the centre of this intense piece. Using the hot, flame colours of red and yellow, the impression of a bomb-blast is immediately apparent. Barford has taken the intensity of anger, when it spills into violence, and has represented it in a cacophony of colour loaded with exploding emotion. “The bomb is a master motif of our time,” says Barford. “A British viewer might see this and think of terrorism but an Iraqi might think of NATO bombs and a Japanese person might think of Hiroshima. At first glance this piece may seem cartoon-like but Barford deliberately uses this style to evoke an emotional distance from the reality of violence. He sees the piece as an example of the way vengeance can be carefully planned, designed to inflict maximum damage and pain but ensuring that the impact is well removed from the person who has planned it.
For Sloth, Barford has created a mirror which resembles a lazy loop, a bulging shape, weighted at the base with the easy, swelling lines of a bag filled with cushions. “I wanted to use just plain white flowers for Sloth,” said Barford, “because it’s about not caring. It’s represented by a shape full of nothingness and the sense of an emotion which is too inert to love or hate anything or anyone.” He adds a quote from Dorothy L. Sayers renowned English writer, poet and playwright, “Sloth is the sin which believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, and only remains alive because there is nothing it would die for.”
The desire for money is plainly seen in this handsome piece. Florets of porcelain blooms each bear the fragmentary image of some of the world’s great currencies. Greenback dollars for the leaves, pink Euros and Sterling pound notes as well as Yuan, Rupees, Turkish lira for the flowers. Avarice confronts the viewer with their basic desire for wealth, depicted as the wreaths twist and turn across the mirror’s organic shape. “The obsession for wealth can be seen both reflexively and reflectively, demonstrating desire and seeing the truth,” says Barford.
An obsession with food is clear to see within this mirror. Resembling the bloated gut of the digestive system, the flowers carry Barford’s witty take on the availability of food and a human inability to resist temptation when it is presented so frequently, and universally. The flowers which adorn the puffy shapes of this piece are patterned with fragments of takeaway food menus and fast food advertisements. “From fatty kebabs to extreme fine dining, humans can’t stop thinking about food,” says Barford. He adds, “For a dieter the idea of food is negatively all-consuming and for the greedy person it’s a constant urge.” The pale tints of the fast food menus are seductively pretty and appealing, just as they are intended to be in their real purpose.
Barford confronts the extremes of contemporary sex in this piece. The flowers are beautiful, as with all the other mirrors, but they each bear the image of a porn star’s face, eyes closed, as they act out their roles for other people’s enjoyment. “I wanted to concentrate on the actors’ faces,” said Barford. “These films are impersonal, in the sense that it’s not the faces that the viewer’s want to see.” Yet the viewer of this piece will see themselves reflected within a splattered border of fleshy faces in varying states of ecstasy, disengaged, doing their job for the lust of others.
The series of Seven Deadly Sins will be seen at David Gill Galleries www.davidgillgalleries.com from February 26 – April 12 2013.
Concurrently an exhibition of his earlier work will be shown from February 9 – March 17 at the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona, California, USA.
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