Né à Londres 1948
Enseignant, traducteur, peintre
Séjours en Espagne, au Maroc et en Italie
Passions : langues, peinture, musique
Baudelaire defined the flâneur as a gentleman stroller who, alert and vigilant, plays a key role in understanding and portraying the city. If such a “connoisseur of watching” exists in Paris today, it’d have to be Barrie Walker, an Englishman whose paintings depict a palpable urban life. Walker’s landscape is the city, the streets his dwellings, art his manner of living. His voyeuristic meanderings through Paris over the last 36 years have taken him through semi-deserted squares, placid parks and carefree crossroads, along hushed alleyways and tortuous pathways, into half-empty cafes and sequestered bars, past disgruntled shopfronts, reluctant streetlamps, nonchalant terraces. In the distance loom monuments, domes and bridges, a decrepit façade, a knotty tree, with wind-tossed leaves or none at all. Windows are smeary, shutters weary, signs dreary. The improvisational, casual intensity of Walker’s work conveys the experience of chance, of the dubious, and stirs the imagination: one can’t help but wonder what’s ‘round the next corner.
Forget statements and symbolism, documentary and nostalgia. Like Edward Hopper, Walker is not a realist, and working from photographs, creates imaginative reconstructions of person and place. These are images of time stilled, where leisure and loneliness belong together, and of-- in the words of Aragon-- “odd, unsuspected lives hoarding a private treasury of pungent stories”. Inhabitants come and go as they get on with their daily routines but seem to hesitate momentarily for the bystander’s gaze. A guitarist plays a manouche riff in an underground jazz bar; a lanky mademoiselle smokes a cigarette on a café terrace; lovers lean over a newspaper, head-to-head, at the zinc counter of a bar; two pedestrians pause for an awkward embrace on a neglected boulevard; a blonde-haired girl approaches a sedate square by scooter. Scenes in miniature unfold in confined, cramped, almost claustrophobic spaces, from a brooding, introspective view. One witnesses intimate behaviour within the public sphere: whether a clandestine liaison, ho-hum meeting or long-anticipated reunion, amidst delicate conversations, exchanged glances, deep silences. There’s tension with the stranger at the adjacent table, the vagrant passing by; your own reflection in a shop window, on a rain-drenched pavement. Through sensual, gestural, voluptuous brushstrokes, objects appear slightly askew and figures as suggestions; ordinary people become phantasms, specific locations ephemeral, recognisable haunts inscrutable. And yet, within the minute details, faces, moments and spaces are brought to characterful, colourful life.
Walker’s confident style and nuanced palette is reminiscent of post-war German expressionists such as Kirchner and Münter, or that quintessential observer of Paris, Utrillo; while his use of whiteness -- for sky, street, snow, tree— is reminiscent of Van Gogh. From nocturnal scene to dawn landscape, there is a fluidity in his use of light: diminished scales of natural, artificial and neon. The polychromatic range of his acrylic impasto, worked up in musical phases, makes the paintings feel like improvised solos. Walker is faithful to what he sees but sidesteps the typical. We revel in wandering vicariously through the visual richness of each passing scene.
Sarah Emily Miano 28.03.10