Sophie Barber’s paintings contend with objects and landscapes plucked from daily life—birds from a nature documentary, circus tents, images of sculptures from books and posters.
The circus tent in Birds Will Hide (2019), covered in candied stripes in shades of pink, is raised up on spindly legs that look as if they might buckle under its weight. At almost four metres high the canvas is similarly hefty, working hard to support the yawning, complex ochre of the background. The dark sliver of tent opening offers a brief respite. Below this the title is spelt out in red block capitals, trailing from the bottom of the canvas onto the floor. Words and phrases play a key role, conversing with the images rather than illustrating them, and providing snippets of fragmented narrative. Importance is placed on the paintings’ physicality, the way they sag, droop and trail under the weight of paint and glued on cut-outs.
Barber’s more recent canvases however are minuscule, the size of holiday snaps in azure blue and astroturf green. Renderings of works by other artists repeat across these and Franz West in particular plays a role. His massive, glossy sculptures become tiny, peeping pink intestines and multi-coloured jelly worms that wriggle in their wobbly, bright daubs. Often names accompany the images—Franz, Barry, Tate—the curves of which take on their own sculptural weight, poking fun. One phallic sculpture (huge in its original form) is reduced to a single tiny pink line, gloriously irreverent in its minuteness and dwarfed by the borders of unpainted canvas that hint at the studio beyond.
These postcard-sized works begin life as offcuts from other paintings and eventually bulge with the layers of abandoned images beneath their surface. The laborious stretching of grubby canvas over canvas gives the finished paintings the look of oddly shaped stones, the traces of Barber’s thought processes now hovering tinily on the wall.