David Barton: Instead of me

David Barton: Instead of me

Gallery 8, The Tetley, Leeds
22nd January – 6th March 2016

Accompanied by an essay by Chris Taylor (featured below)


In the early 1960s David Barton moved from the self-assured Lancashire mill-town of Bury to the melting pot of cosmopolitan London to study at Goldsmiths College School of Art. Here, he was to meet the renowned artist, educator and writer, Anton Ehrenzweig, author of The Hidden Order of Art: A Study in the Psychology of Artistic Imagination (1967), whose tutelage and influential study of the psychology of creativity would have a long-lasting and profound affect on Barton’s future artistic and teaching career. In 1977 Barton published his first collection of drawings, brought together under the title, Vulnerable Supplicant, and has since produced a further 250 books, either as individual publications or several within a series, each perfect bound.

Preferring to draw in isolation, he has worked in collaboration on the rarest of occasions. Barton draws every day of the year. He draws in his studio, perched upon a makeshift stool, the loose seat tilting forward till it settles into its optimum angle for the hand-eye relationship. The drawing paper (always foolscap) rests on a cascade of other sheets that have come to rest across his desk in a perfect landslide. The cast of north light through the sash window frame melds with the glow of the fluorescent bulb hanging above his head, falling onto the exact same spot which it has illuminated for the past 38 years in Hither Green.

In this room we find ourselves surrounded by books and boxes of books, reams of paper, and an archive of sorts of all the drawings that have gone towards making up these books, bundled together and tied with string. Over time, this mass of material has come to inhabit his workspace, office and store. With one wrong move this towering library of works on paper, the pictures that make up the books, wedged between floor and ceiling, could come tumbling down.

The artist picks up his Bic Cristal pen and begins to draw… and continues to draw until the dialogue between artist and image has run its course or the ink runs out, whichever comes first. The nib of the pen is attached to a new refill, never discarded, the continuity of line quality being all important to the flow of the picture making. Even a tiny dot or increase of pressure or hesitation can bring a drawing to life or destroy it.

“At certain times a theme or idea will continue through several books, grouping them together, but I think of each drawing or painting or days work, or each book, as just glimpses of the best I could achieve (or rather the best that I deserved to be given) at that time – on that day. So I see my work not just as unfinished but as NOT YET STARTED. Every day I start again. I begin again from nothing.”

Barton’s continuous urge to draw – to make pictures on a daily basis – is fed by a willingness to learn, and as long as there is something new still to be discovered through the act of drawing the artist continues to immerse himself in a process that ebbs and flows between hand and paper, paper and mind, pen and paper. The random associations which invade and disrupt the visual images he creates are seen as spontaneous interventions from “that other consciousness” and he makes further countless studies and experiments to “test their strength and ability to reveal more”.

“I am a pleader, asking the work to respond and reveal something to me, and I am a searcher looking to find and understand what I have been given. In this way, perhaps my work presents the continually shifting glimpses of my predicament as a human being and as an artist. In this dialogue, I am an obedient limb, picking up the pen or brush and making necessary marks.”

Through a “conversation” with the work, lines, spaces, forms, colours and patterns relate and interact by association and meaning to create images which may reveal what Barton believes to be a fundamental unconscious existence, shared by all but buried beneath the debris of everyday life.

He takes a clean sheet of paper and a new drawing is begun.

For Barton, the book becomes a holding device in which a particular period of activity is stored – images collated in order of production, with a beginning and an end that are neither a start nor a finish, but rather, act as temporary breaks and space for consideration within the research continuum.

For his solo exhibition at The Tetley, Barton presents us with 250 such periods of interaction and response – a multitude of drawings ‘instead of me’.

David Barton, exhibiting as part of Picture Book, The Tetley, 21 January–6 March 2016.


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