On Saturday 11 August 2018 we open our new exhibition LANDMARKS, a solo show by Richard Barrett
Richard Barrett is originally from Wales and left to attend Sheffield University to study Ecology. Afterwards he spent time in London as a teacher but quickly decided that his future lay in his interest in art. His father had been a keen amateur artist and encouraged Richard as a child, laying down the foundation for art as a valuable and important part of life. Richard was employed as an art director at a major publishing company where he created artwork and also commissioned and edited the work of other artists. He was very successful in the role and it was this period of time, which honed his ability as an effective visual communicator, with a high level of technical skill and an understanding of client requirements. However, the commercial demands impacted on his own creativity and he decided he needed to be more focused on his own internal vision. After eight years, Richard returned to live in Sheffield on the edge of the Derbyshire Peak District. After a period of transition between commercial art and his own painting, he committed to painting full time.
It was his study of ecology that first connected Richard to the raw beauty of the Derbyshire Peak District and influenced the way he saw the landscape. Richard’s degree afforded him an understanding of the immense history, evolution and structure of landscape. He saw the Peak District through eyes that understood the 360 million year relationship between a warm shallow sea and the now iconic White Peak. He understood the way gritstone formed the Dark Peak and his imagination was kindled by the dramatic weather and the way it was formed by, and related to, the ancient landscape. This dynamic weather system gave a sense of an environment that is a living, breathing entity – its biodiversity fundamentally dependent on elemental nature
“As children, I think we are all aware instinctively of this basic truth, but tend to lose touch with the land as we get caught up in the grind of modern life”
Richards’s paintings have unique essential features, which combine to produce his land and cloudscapes – sometimes violently dramatic, sometimes calm and ethereal. There is a suggestion in the work as a whole of a confident knowledge and skillfulness together with a more tentative, intuitive searching…
A significant aspect of Richard Barrett’s work is his understanding of landscape: the land in his paintings is almost always gestural, as if it’s known and understood, it’s essential nature always changing, but fundamentally grasped. The skies in contrast, are usually huge, often billowing, an element to be grappled with and almost always the active element of the painting. The skies are the rapidly changing ethereal worlds, seeming to transform the landscape they are created by and seeming to breath life back into the land. It’s as if the land is immutable, a crucible for the alchemy of the skies. Another important component of Richard Barrett’s successful paintings is his technical skill. This has been honed by many years as a commercial artist, where skill and precision made him a highly competent exponent of visual language. His paintings are loose, responsive and connected to memory, emotion and inner vision. However, in each painting the underlying formal elements are apparent – of structure, composition and competent draughtsmanship
However, the primary element of Richards’s paintings is his creative vision, an emotional intelligence and memory, which is more about and inner landscape than the external one. His paintings have a semi-abstract quality, which appears to portray a sense of place, but just as effectively suggest other worldliness. They are responsive to the landscape but don’t overtly attempt to depict a location: not so much a sense of place as a sense of the spirit of the place. To achieve this sense of memory, Richards working conditions need to engender a creative resonance and he uses music to achieve this. He’s particular about the kind of music which contributes to the sweeping vistas he’s trying to evoke – such as Anna Von Hausswolf’s dark atmospherics.
Richard admires the paintings of Joan Eardly and the way in which she seems to know how to convey emotion in her landscapes. It’s possible to see her influence in some of the paint applications in Richards’s paintings, allowing the nature of the paint to define the subject. Richard also admires the work of his countryman Kyffin Williams – his distinctive style and bold use of colour.
Richard says of his paintings: ‘I’ve always watched the skies, inspired by the quality of light and the drama of the weather it brings and this has been the major influence behind much of my painting. For me, it’s the changing dynamics of weather and light on the land that touches the emotions and compels me to paint. In many ways, the sky gives the land its breath.
Time spent walking the land, observing, recording and sketching provide the starting point for Richard’s work. The quality of light is a constant theme and it’s possible to see why Constable’s oil sketches of clouds had such an influence. However, while Richards’s paintings have the freshness and vitality so admired in Constable, he doesn’t always use his source material for his final works. Back in the studio as the creative process of painting begins, an intuitive approach comes into play. The initial sketch could be the trigger for the painting, but it could as easily be a memory, a piece of music, an inarticulate, insubstantial feeling… Instinct and memories then guide the direction of the piece so that the finished painting becomes an expression of an inner landscape, half remembered, half felt…
The landscapes that evolve have an allusive abstracted quality. The movement of the wind and the rain as well as the drama of shifting light on the land provide magical, fleeting moments in a Derbyshire landscape. They invite the viewer in, to find their own interpretation, their own personal story.