Art Basel: Artists on Artists: Alvaro Barrington

March 1, 2021

Skye Sherwin

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Artists on Artists: Alvaro Barrington
By: Skye Sherwin

London-based artist Alvaro Barrington (b. 1983) grew up in Grenada and then New York City. This personal trajectory and his Caribbean roots inform his vibrant work, which also draws on music, art history, and fashion to explore cultural history, identity, and sexuality. Here, he discusses the artists he admires in OVR: Pioneers.

“Robert Colescott was so forward-thinking. He was making work similar to [the Harlem renaissance painter] Aaron Douglas, but I also see [similarities to] Matisse who went to Marrakesh: It’s that journey Westerners took with Islamic art as a way to look at a new pictorial space. Colescott’s work [rooted in his time in Cairo] is embedded in the legacy of artists [going to the African continent], finding inspiration on how to break up space and think in a way that’s more about a mood. [In the Cairo paintings, presented by Blum & Poe,] space is not just something that people live in; it’s something they are a part of. It extends into color and rhythm. It’s about the hustle and bustle of the moment.

“Betye Saar’s work is so inventive in terms of pictorial space, assemblage, and the life around the object. [In her washboard assemblage Banjo Boy (2015), on view with Roberts Projects,] it’s like you can run your fingers around it and feel the musicality. The fact that she painted a banjo player, something musical, and [the board suggests] a pensive meditation on washing. Right above it, she colored in a compass so that it feels like a globe or a clock. It becomes about labor. She’s really in conversation with the materiality of the washboard, and she’s not dominating it the way Rauschenberg would. She’s making space for it.

“Raymond Pettibon is important because there’s a direct link between wider culture and what he does, like designing [album artwork] for Black Flag. We’re also experiencing a moment where punk rock is burningin a real way. A lot of kids I speak to [at art school] have decided that it’s time to say, “Fuck the rules, fuck the system,” which has left them in student debt and with the problems of global warming. It’s really exciting to see that, and Pettibon comes from [a similar] punk rock ethos. “I play my heart like a drum” – how poignant is that drawing [No Title (I play my heart) (1985), presented by Sadie Coles HQ]? He’s playing his heart out, but there’s also a needle in his hand. Pettibon is like a prophet in my mind. What he’s seeing and feeling internally translates. It’s iconic. It lives forever. 

“I’m always interested in words that become stained in a cultural moment. Words like “mood” and “vibe” are really prominent in today’s lexicon, and I associate them with music. When it comes to the color and pattern that are creating a mood, few are as inventive as Sonia Delaunay. When I see her work [which is presented by Galerie Zlotowski], it makes me think of the roaring 1920s, jazz, all of that. A lot of artists now refer to color as a mood and are trying to find that in their own work. I think there’s going to be a revitalized interest in Delanuay’s work. I feel like a lot of young artists are trying to do what she does.”

OVR: Pioneers will run March 24–27, 2021.

Alvaro Barrington is represented by Sadie Coles HQ, London; Blum & Poe, New York City, Los Angeles, and Tokyo; Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo, New York City, and Brussels; Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris, London, and Salzburg; Karma, New York City; Corvi-Mora, London; and Emalin, London.

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Blum & Poe Los Angeles, New York, and Tokyo will be closed for the summer from August 14 through August 28.