Barrington Tobin | New Paintings

Eames Fine Art, 2018
Soft cover exhibition catalogue
Barrington Tobin | New Paintings
Publisher: Eames Fine Art
Dimensions: 210 x 210 mm
Pages: 32
£ 10.00

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Introductory Essay


It is now just over two years since Barrington’s last solo show with Eames Fine Art (Postcards, Spring 2016) and so, New Paintings provides the welcome opportunity for a catch up. The intervening period has clearly been extraordinarily productive with Barrington completing three major new series of works and it has been exhilarating to grapple with this rich creative flourish in preparation for this show.


New Paintings charts a course through three bodies of work (in chronological order): Roundels, Circumambulations and Trees I Have Known comprising over thirty canvases, panels and pastels. Inevitably, this process results in a condensed overview of two years of work and yet a reassuring feature when curating the selection is the fluid progression of ideas from one body of work to the next. There is an established coherence to the intellectual underpinning of these works and yet, importantly, this does not preclude the breaking of exciting new ground. More accurately perhaps, for anyone who has already encountered Barrington’s work, a circuit around this show will find them on familiar ground but the mode of travel is sometimes different. So, what has remained the same in New Paintings and what can we discern as having changed?


The first point to make is that Barrington remains as elusive as ever. His work has always navigated a different realm, glanced at from the periphery of everyday understanding. Meaning in these works has to be sought out and Barrington, as is his right, is reluctant to help us out being firm in the conviction that this sense of ‘otherness’ should remain an enigma. We need therefore to find our own way into these works and happily, their formal aspects offer rich potential. Colour is still a good place to start with Barrington’s work and he does not disappoint here. The palette is as sumptuous as ever with the delicious pinks and reds of Circumambulations I, II and III being especially tempting. Barrington’s relish for materials is also much in evidence. His use of the finest, heaviest Belgian linen for the canvases, hand-prepared gesso panels and generous helpings of oil paint deployed in thick impasto (witness Trees I have Known 6) show that Barrington’s eye for quality when it comes to the tools of his craft remains as keen as ever. A familiar intellectual framework informs the ideas behind the works. The canvas and panels are organised into series; groups of work that clearly have a dialogue with each other but retain an individual character nevertheless. This is a favourite strategy of Barrington’s and the use of a series or theme as an organising principle to leaven his ideas has served him well here again. These three new series can therefore be added to Orbs, Magic Box, Semaphore and Postcards in a remarkable parade from recent years that demonstrates an impressive flow of ideas from one to the next.


Crucially, it is also evident that Barrington is still striving for harmony, for balance in these new paintings. It is a striving attended by a distinct musicality as has always been the case with Barrington’s best work. Works such as Roundels IX and Roundels I are a sonorous response to the forces that urge their creation, as precisely tuned in pitch and tone as ever.


So, there is much here that we can relate to previous works however fascinating new dimensions also assert themselves. The handling of oil paint, particularly in the most recent series Trees I Have Known is much looser and refreshingly so. These panels buzz excitedly and Barrington does not feel the need to cover every inch of the composition. White gesso gleams pleasingly from the margins of works such as Trees I Have Known (5) and Miniature for Roundels and Circumambulations (1) and the effect is confident and playful. Barrington clearly feels a breezy rapport with the subject of these works and tellingly, these panels have been completed in a single sitting. This new-found ability to finish a work ‘in one hit’, as Barrington puts it, confirms his confidence to leave well alone when one has, ‘said what needs to be said.’


The catalyst for this sureness of touch can be found in two striking paintings that followers of Barrington’s work to date may find somewhat disconcerting. Circumambulation V and Last Circumambulation apparently thwarted all of Barrington’s attempts to evade them and insisted on being made. Barrington concedes that these detours into figuration were almost involuntary and he acknowledges that these are two of the most uncharacteristic paintings he has produced to date. In the handling of paint in particular, these two works represent a shift that heralds the direction of Trees I Have Known and certainly represent the pivot around which this whole collection of work can be understood.


These new works do cover much fresh ground therefore and it is pleasing to see Barrington venture into new territory with such a vital spring in his step. The fundamentals remain intact however and as with previous offerings, these works serve as gentle invitations to slow down, remove ourselves from the torrent of everyday life and pause to reflect on new thoughts as they arrive. Barrington has always said that his work is about learning how to listen and he has been paying full attention over the last two years. It feels like the right time to hear what he has to tell us again.


Vincent Eames, Autumn 2018