Richard Barnes - London and York: Remastered, According To McGee, York, until September 3 (From York Press)
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Richard Barnes - London and York: Remastered, According To McGee, York, until September 3
THE frenzy of London past and present captured in the hectic opening and closing ceremonies of the London 2012 Olympic Games can be found too in the new oil paintings and digitally enhanced works of York artist Richard Barnes.
Likewise, his latest exhibition at According To McGee, London and York: Re-mastered, conveys York’s relationship between the city of history and today. “In the daytime, the heritage view of York is harder to get away from, but the modern city does become more evident at night when York lights up,” he says.
“Looking at Clifford’s Tower, from this gallery, it’s definitely more magical at night, and I think people ‘get’ that now when there’s a lot more strolling around the city going on.”
Yet, as gallery co-director Greg McGee notes, Richard’s exhibition comes at a time when “London’s star is in the ascent and York’s forward thinking energy is in danger of being muted in favour of its heritage”.
“Where is the equivalent of The Shard building in York?” asks Richard, who thrills at the integration of new old in London and Paris too.
Nevertheless, he is drawn as much to York’s office buildings as to his most regular subject matter, the street scene looking towards York Minster, and where the heart of the night previously dominated his art, now some paintings deal more with “that semi-stage between day and night as the light fades”.
“The paintings I’m most pleased with are those that observe that change. As you sit painting, you watch as buildings light up and you can see people inside doing their job or packing things away.
“Or you notice how the Guildhall windows become really ‘lacy’ in that light, and you’ll see the effect of lights being turned at a riverside contemporary bar.”
Just as the to and fro of life in York around its buildings is apparent from the sense of movement in his paintings, so his London evening works give off both the buzz of the capital and Barnes’s appreciation of its architecture.
“It’s interesting that the disenfranchised and the tourists are the ones taking in the place the most, because they have the time out in their lives to do that, whereas people going home from work are in a rush, so they don’t notice things,” says Richard, whose “quite scruffy” appearance as he did his sketches and drawings drew the attention of people who would ask if he required somewhere to stay or offered him a sandwich as he looked “in need of something to eat”.
The artist in Richard notes how rare it is in our day just to sit still and take in a view. “Here you are, with all this bustle around you, and you are in the middle of it, and I can’t think of anything else to call it but extraordinarily beautiful,” he says.
“It’s a magical experience where whatever it is your witnessing is pretty remarkable, and where all these intellectual expectations and forewarnings you have go away. That’s what I’m trying to capture in my paintings.”
Richard grew up in the Turkish city of Istanbul, in which he would look out over the calm of the Bosphorus strait at night. “When I came to London, I couldn’t really believe it at first, just how busy it always was, and these paintings sort of capture how I felt when I was eight,” he says “Hopefully viewers of my work can appreciate there’s a child-like thing going on in them: dribbling oil on the canvas and pushing paint around.
“But although it’s child-like, it’s also like a game of chess with the fluidity of movement. Sometimes what I do when I’m painting is very quick; other times I’ll put on a mark that has to evaporate for three days.”
Despite the scorn of conceptual artists and intellectuals in conversation with Richard, who tell him he has chosen the wrong subject to paint, he casts aside his initial agreement with them and decides that “when I see these things, I know completely it’s the right thing to paint”.
“My idea is to make studio paintings that capture the liveliness of the sketches and drawings you make while you’re out there in the street,” he says.
“My art is a kind of fusion between impressionism and futurism, abstract expressionism and photo-realism, although actually it’s shifting the grounds between all of them.”
Effectively what Richard does is put old York and London through the most contemporary design practices available, while applying the conventions of drawing to such digital techniques.
The collision of these two great cities in his Re-mastered exhibition was not intentional at first. “If I’m being honest, they’re on show together because I’ve been painting the two of them at the same time, but now I have put the paintings up together, I can reflect on it.
“I’ve just been down to the Olympics and thinking about that experience too, so if you take the paintings I’ve done of York and the same scenes of London life, then hopefully you will realise I’m saying the two cities are as impressive as each other.
“York might be seen as a slightly olde worlde, slightly twee tourist centre, and a lot of visions of York present it that way, but what I do is re-present familiar landscapes and allow people to see them for their potential and magic.
“And that’s why people come here, because they do see that magic – and I believe the city’s extraordinary past and its fantastic architecture should be a catalyst for contemporary art and ideas too.”
He loves the way that each York ghost tour host has a different story to tell and a different way of telling it. “It doesn’t matter that the story is true or not because, as darkness falls, people’s imaginations come into play,” says Richard.
Simultaneously, at dusk, the city’s colours come out to play, and in turn Richard revels in the relationships between those colours. “It’s the urban excitement of colour that I love. It’s extraordinarily exciting if we can release something from being an object to being a colour,” he says.
“Artists like Kandinsky and Patrick Heron felt like they were discovering a new world of the senses in their use of colour, and if anything captures the beauty and joy if being alive, colour does that.”
- Richard Barnes’s exhibition, London and York: Remastered, runs at According To McGee, York, until September 3. Richard also has work linked to this show in Starbucks, Coppergate, opposite Jorvik.