Leeds Art Gallery, UK

7th February 2020 - 31st May 2020

The press release for Barker's latest solo exhibition describes her exhibits as 'tray works'. This description reminds me of marble painting as a child, rolling the glass ball through poster paint creating swirls and circles in our plastic homework trays. Although Barker's work is not at all childlike, the underlying narratives she imbues her work with resonate with the fictional worlds that made childhood so innocent. 

The works continue an existential communication between sculpture and painting that marks Barker's practice with both mediums acting as a facade for the other. Where painting provides an underlying landscape for narrative to unfurl, sculpture dances before it, each a tool to talk about the passing of time and memory. The space in between painted surface and wire construction becomes a lofty environment wherein stories exist and become imbued into the framework of Barker's painterly portals. 

Sara Barker works with painted sheets of aluminum and moulded and brazed brass and steel, which together form sculptural paintings in space or wall-based reliefs. Barker uses sheet metal the way others might use a canvas, experimenting with the limits of the painted surface, rejecting fatness and giving shape to gesture and movement. Instances of metal used in relief form gives the material a sense of autonomy and in works such as Nature-Builder it seems as if it is agitated by the wall, activated in space. 

Eight tray works exist alongside alongside a sculpture honouring revolutionary science, a permanent commission for the University of Leeds. It tributes Sir William’s pioneering research in developing X-ray crystallography in the early 20th century and will take-up a prominent position as part of the university’s new Engineering and Physical Sciences development in 2020. Sara Barker said: ‘the sculpture is made up letters, shapes and motifs, revealed as we move around it, which act as prompts and triggers to a familiar scientific vernacular but also break out of their archetypal use to create spiralling imagery in vivid iridescent colour, describing worlds within worlds.’

With relation to my personal practice, Barker's work has been of longstanding interest to me for the poetic ways in which she manipulates materials to suggest fictional worlds that we are invited to through outstretched wire way-finders. Her sculptures are completed by the spaces in which they are installed by implementing the negative space around them; resulting in abstract, powerful and dream-like sequences of materials. This interaction between sculpture and space is one that I try to achieve in my own work to create instances of tactility between artwork and the architecture in which it is situated in. 

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