Private Lives, 2008

Ask Barford for the subject of his series 'Private Lives' and he will, after a pause, reply “human frailty”.

Charles Darwent


Barnaby Barford takes objects with a long tradition of social propriety – porcelain figurines – and juggles their various parts so that they become jarring or inappropriate. The body of work in ‘Private Lives’ – exhibited at David Gill in 2008– both subverts the traditions of porcelain and honours them.

Pieces such as ‘Oh God, Oh God – Margaret Thatcher on a cold day’, do not exude waves of malice or critical theory. If anything, the word that suggests itself is “playful”. The sculpture’s Snow White figurine flirts coquettishly with Sleepy; if the dwarf sports an obvious erection, then so he should. The work is about play, which is what porcelain figurines have always been about.


Pieces of Meissen or Lladrò were (and are) designed for the telling of stories, whether those stories are of Pierrot courting Columbine or of gypsy ladies selling balloons. Barford’s figurines, too, tell stories, although their narrative is self-contained. The shire horse in ‘Anything you can do, I can do better’ lives up to its title. Barford has visibly changed it – the horse now has an astronaut’s helmet and the letters “USA” , or indeed “CCCP” , on its flank – but the result is an improvement rather than a diminution.

The pieces in ‘Private Lives’ suffer from lust, greed, cruelty and overweening ambition. But they are also accepting of their own weaknesses, the joins in their make-up. In the mode of Hogarth, they admit that the world is an imperfect place, without letting it get them down. Maybe they even celebrate the fact. And that capacity both to wag a finger at frailties and enjoy them puts Barford’s new work in a tradition that is as much British as it is postmodern.
– text by Charles Darwent