The humble and otherwise Milky Way Bar set acclaimed contemporary landscape and figurative artist on his way, creatively speaking, back in the mists of time as an art-obsessed 7-year old looking to impress his teacher - and claim the first prize of the aforementioned confectionary delight – achieved just that by fulfilling the loose brief of ‘portraying themselves in an unusual setting’. Ever so slightly pretentious for ones so young to run with, but obviously that precisely what Barsby did to bag the Milky Way. Either way, this test of his artistry served to whet Barsby’s creative appetite still further as he continued his formative years art education out of the conventional educational context (i.e., his school).
Instead, Barsby would gate-crash his mate’s parent’s house and set to work re-imagining the spare rolls of wallpaper that his mate’s dad would give them both to keep quiet/occupy their minds with. The subject matter invariably turned to that which was uppermost in most young boys’ minds before they hit adolescence, that of ships, soldiers, planes and bombs; all of which formed the alternative/reverse side wallpaper during this period. Which in all honesty probably wouldn’t have kept Laura Ashley up at night. However, what the depiction of these battle scenes did do was inadvertently instil in Barsby that art could be fun and more than that, if required to, it was a fantastic means of conveying a story or message. With the greatest will in the world, this stuff just can’t be taught.
Before all that though, and Barsby was brought into this world back in 1969 in Leicester, and describes his childhood (including the aforementioned school years) as one of happiness and relative comfort, as well as on which was enveloped with a sense of creativity courtesy of his parents. Barsby’s hairdresser mother had an eye for design according to the artist himself who recounts the way in which she could envisage a finished hairstyle before she even started with the scissors, whilst his father was a dab-hand at model-making in his spare time. Dab-hand and obsessive it would appear, when Barsby explains how his dad would retire to his shed for days on end to construct scale models of boats, planes, houses and various landscapes from predominantly balsa wood. So all-in-all, Barsby’s got his parental unit to thank for this seemingly inherent creativity which shines through in his signature works today. And yesterday. And the day before that, and long after tomorrow.
The great British seaside played a large part in Barsby’s youth too, which would ultimately shape his future design direction to a certain degree, and would habitually centre around extended caravan stays rarely more than a stone’s throw from the coastal fringes of the UK. Travelling to and from destinations however near or far has remained a constant in Barsby’s life, and irrespective of the number of countries (and considerably warmer climes) that he’s experienced since, the allure of the Cornwall of his childhood always tends to draw him back and remains incomparable in his eyes. And when Barsby’s not in and around Cornwall, his mind tends to still be there as he seeks perpetual inspiration for his accumulative individual works and collections.
Barsby graduated from the Kent Institute of Art and Design in 1992, with a first class Honours Degree in Illustration for his troubles and from that juncture decided to make a stab of it professionally; albeit as a freelance illustrator as a toe-dipping in the commercial/creative sea exercise (if you’ll excuse the pun). As luck (and indeed, talent) would have it, Barsby soon found his feet, and when he wasn’t illustrating freelancingly for more commercial clients, he’d be busy pushing his extra-curricular artistic prowess; usually in the general direction of London galleries. A host of these art galleries appreciated what they saw in Barsby’s personal work, and agreed to exhibit/sell his work, which provided more grits to the Barsby mill per se.
The success of this meant that just four years after graduating Barsby found himself in the position of actually going it alone and turned pro as a bona fida fine artist in 1996. It wasn’t long before he realised that it was the best decision that he could have made, and was soon inundated with requests to exhibit at a raft of galleries, not just London-based, but throughout the UK as a whole. This was only just the tip of the iceberg though, as once Barsby starting collaborating with his art publisher a range of limited edition and original silkscreen prints of his works were being produced for while new, and extremely broad, audience clamouring for his compositions in one way or another. As his confidence soared, Barsby put on his first major London exhibition, which was hosted by Harrod’s picture Gallery in June 1998, which proved to be nothing short of a resounding success. A specially invited guest list were treated to a showcase of Barsby’s hitherto landscapes, cityscapes and seascapes on that occasion, yet the artist’s direction was set to evolve and change thereafter. Whilst still known for his landscapes, Barsby has moved into a more figurative genre in recent times, which again has been universally well-received by one and all.
A diverse and somewhat mixed bag of artists are all mentioned by Barsby when the question of outside influences and inspirations are routinely posed, with a list heavily featuring the likes of Stanley Spencer, Alfred Wallis, C.R.W Nevinson and Paul Nash. Indeed, it’s the seemingly naïve works of Wallis, who in turn influenced Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood, when it came to Barsby’s original coastal and harbour panoramas. In terms of industry recognition and applause, Barsby has a string of accolades to his name, and have memorably included the prestigious John Solomon Trophy for Best Selling Artist of 1998, the’ Best Up and Coming Artist’ accolade as presented by the Fine Art Trade Guild 12 months later, followed up by the same organisation and industry body handing him their ‘Best Selling Artist in the UK’ gong a year on from that. Barsby’s also been nominated for in the ‘Best Published Artist’ category on no fewer than three separate – and successive – occasions; namely 2001, 2002 and 2003, whilst he’s also been invited to lecture at several art colleges across his native Midlands.
Today, and Barsby’s own personal family life impresses on his new-found creative regime, with the artist looking after his young son since his birth whilst his wife pursues her chosen career.