Think of Gotham City, only less futuristic, yet equally as dark and brutish. Or perhaps the streets of Sherlock Holmes’ Victorian London. Often by night, the streetlights catch the city streets beneath in an eerie gaslight glow. However stop for a second and look. Beneath the abject misery of raging, brooding skies and a world dirty and scarred, what’s this you see before you? Children, joyously playing in said street, cycling, hopping, skipping and jumping, playing football, cricket, running a stick down metalwork railings; unburdened to the disturbian streets around them. This is signature Bob Barker.
Bob Barker can pinpoint precisely the moment when the art bug bit. Christmas morning when he was 12 years old. As that year Barker received the Christmas present that would, in time, set a precedent for his career and ultimately shape his life per se. And that gift was an oil painting set. Transfixed by the effects that he could create with a brush, oil paint and hardboard, Barker initially would paint on the reverse side of the hardboard’s surface as he felt that appeared more canvas-like.
Born and bred in Yorkshire, Barker’s mother was a weaver in one of the mills that once peppered town skylines in the north of England, and as a schoolboy he’d go to the mill after lessons finished and wait for her shift to end. Barker was goggle-eyed by the mill, and reminisces about the entire ambience of the industrial environ. From the aroma emitted by the looms to tea made by the ‘cha lady’ there; who just happened to be his grandmother. Barker took in his surrounds, committing the look and feel of the spinning sheds, the burling and mending rooms and the winders and tuners to memory.
Barker also spent time in Cornwall during his younger days, where he befriended two prominent local artists, Keith English and Tom Gower, who captivated Barker as he studied their painting technique and shared conversations with them which he says gave him a belief and confidence that one day he too could make his living as a professional artist.
Unfortunately life sometimes gets in the way of even the best laid plans, as was the case with Barker. In his particular instance a marriage, mortgage, family; all the things that as much as you love/need/want in your life, require a secure, regular stream of income to achieve. Which is not necessarily guaranteed as an artist, especially from the outset. So instead Barker’s painting remained in the box ticked as ‘hobby’, and he put all his energies into his multimedia production company that he successfully ran for 20 years, and which saw Barker travel the globe filming for clients and running workshops, as well as lecturing students on video making. However in recent years his daughter-in-law has taken over the reigns of the business, which has freed up enough time for Barker to dedicate the majority of his time to his first love.
CDs containing Barker’s painted images were fired off to fine art publishers left, right and centre, whilst he started selling his paintings to local galleries in 2001. This sudden exposure proved lucrative, as Barker’s work was now being viewed by a broader demographic, and with it, a reputation and following grew. Yet it was a chance meeting with Glyn Washington (of Washington Green) at the Autumn Fair in Birmingham back in 2005 where Barker was exhibiting his collective work, that provided the seed for the next, big chapter to begin.
With no formal training or appropriate qualification to speak of, Barker’s predominantly brush and palette knife application of oils on canvas is largely self-taught, which is no mean feat and underlines the gift and natural flair he clearly had bestowed upon him, one in which he’s nurtured and developed on his creative journey in life. Barker summons and evokes a startlingly unique, magnanimously moody yet powerfully atmospheric feel to his works, which are as dynamic as much as they are steeped in emotion and layered with provocation. Lighting plays a significant role in Barker’s studies and it’s positioning within each frame shouldn’t be underestimated. Moody and mesmerising