coming clean in claire barrow’s first solo art exhibition
In her first solo art show The Bed, The Bath and the Beyond, Claire Barrow combines ideas of modern day anxieties with ancient religious iconography.
i-D favourite Claire Barrow is known for obscuring the norm. First and foremost with her work as both an artist and a fashion designer with which she has complete fluidity between the two. In fact, every item of clothing produced by Barrow is a work of art in it's own right, her signature illustrations sprawled over leather jackets, silk evening gowns and denim washed in a cement mixer of stones and sand in her back garden. For her autumn/winter 16 collection, The Retrospective, she portrayed a warped version of history from her own imagination presented in a 'fake' gallery set up. Now, with The Bed, The Bath and the Beyond, Barrow continues to blur lines, this time blending ancient depictions death, baptism and rebirth with references to modern day anxieties and rituals such as taking a cleansing shower.
The exhibition includes 17 pieces of work in Barrow's neo-primitive style, presented through illustrations on toilet paper and germs depicted in the form of clinical neon lights. This collectively shines a light on the similarities in a modern and ancient desire for cleanliness, to be washed of sins and the need for self-perfection or 'godliness'. In the lead up to her show which opens this week, we caught up with Barrow to find out more.
What came first for you, fashion or art?
I went to fashion college in Middlesbrough when I was 16 and that had always been my interest. I mean, I was drawing all the time but it's not until university that I started combining the two into the garments I created.
Do you draw every day?
I have a small notebook with me at all times and it's mainly full of writing. Talking myself through my process or inspiration sometimes works better with words than with sketches.
There's a wonderful primitiveness about your work… Is it a conscious decision not to over refine?
Everything is best first time round! If it's taking to long to 'get' something it's usually that it's not good enough and you should go back to the beginning.
What's the thinking behind the title of the show, The Bed, The Bath and The Beyond? And is there an overriding theme to it?
The Bed, The Bath and the Beyond is a project based around social and political anxieties really. About finding what it means to be a living person with consequences in your actions, questioning my own existence, mortality and where I sit in this world. I think it's a common thing in your mid twenties, no?
How much of your work is inspired by the historical or political?
That's kind of the whole point of me starting to reference myself and what's happening in my head. I want to find ways of creating work that can move things forward. I'm trying to let go of visual 'references' and go from instincts. We have images ingrained in our subconscious anyway so they are there whether you like them or not. Last season for autumn/winter 16, the theme of The Retrospective was to reference my idea of history rather than what is truthful to try to put retro to bed... What can we make this is new anymore?
What attracted you about working in neon?
It's quite a common in modern art and associated with lots of people already so that interested me... also it related so well to the stories within the show of these ghostly 'presences' and 'germs' in the artworks. It buzzes and has a real presence and the cartoonish figures in white light capture this also looking fairly clinical - 'the bed, the bath and the beyond'.
Finally… Can you tell us what you're working on next?
Text Lula Ososki
Interview Matthew Whitehouse
Images courtesy of Claire Barrow