Interview with Nathan Barlex: Progressive Collapse

Nathan Barlex: Progressive Collapse is currently on show at Christopher Crescent until 27th February 

24 Tudor Grove, E9 7QL

Thurs, Fri and Sat 12-5pm and by appt.

Nathan Barlex graduated from painting at the Royal College of Art last year and his current show “progressive collapse” is at Christopher crescent, London.

Barlex offers an unruly contrast to post-pop-trinkets and anti-aesthetic-documentary-style work that often dominates today. At the core of his work is a relationship with painting, but don’t be fooled, no attempt is made to sustain a rarefied cozy commodity status sometimes aspired to by others. Instead Barlex explodes paint into energy and matter. Conjured either to make the world visible or invisible. Often marooning his viewer in a space in-between - the hinterland between fact and fiction.  Paint here is like dirt, earth, bird shit, layered brown grease coating the wall above a deep fat fryer. Of the world while simultaneously describing it. For Barlex, the notion of conspiracy is inherent to representation itself but it also evokes the current social and political climate. Played out with a nod toward the esoteric, a system of recognition and misrecognition exposes the possibility of magic. 

In a time when rapidly advancing technological systems are implicated in an unstable production of knowledge, Barlex invites the viewer to consider what phenomenological anthropology might look like. 

Lydia Corry: Your current work seems to dismiss equivalence between resemblance and affirmation, Fiction and Fact. The “tussle” seems to occur in dislocating the two. How does this play out in the paintings?

Nathan Barlex: I consider the paintings as found objects in as much as that the making process stems from an established system in the studio which sets up a beginning- this is the hardest part- and from this point the painting can generate itself. A tension is created through mark-making, adding and taking away. The criteria for right and wrong is hazy, reliant in part my own aesthetic interests. The play is in doing.  In terms of the finished article it can operate as a mirrored state to the making process. Looking can become making. Processing what is visible and invisible. I’m trying to find room for perceptual inconsistency to be included in the phenomenon of painting as it exists on the wall; coming about through depth of field, spatial and temporal elements.

LC: A confabulation between linguistic signs and plastic elements, image/material is very prevalent in the recent works, is there a hierarchy between the two? Or perhaps the better question is does one come first?

NB: This show is the first occasion where I have not included any figurative representation, though that’s not to say the show is without image. The way I consolidate the relationships…hmm…I couldn’t really put one above the other. In a way the crux is in an apparitional experience. I have always been interested in ghosts, patterns, faces people see in the dirt. For me the relationship between material and image is paramount. Matter generates image.

LC: The notion of phenomenon like appropriation seems crucial to your practice: emphasis is placed on the object apprehended by the human senses as opposed to an object as it is intrinsically in itself.  This is compounded by your use of materials, which often evoke the abject, how important is it for you to generate an experiential sense of the work?

NB: Paramount. The inclusion of the cognitively dysfunctional is something I mean to explore.  There is a problem as to whether that’s healthy or not- but it seems a route into the human condition. Using the mistakes of perceptual apprehension has become more and more important in the way I generate ideas and works.

LC: The appropriation you conjure is often a double gambit, in the work “Bootleg” (2009), a plastic DVD case is framed, the object looks as if its’ been thrown out, soiled and faded, initially it appears familiar and plausible but slowly we begin to mistrust it authenticity. However nothing is absolutely confirmed except a sense of conspiracy. What does “conspiracy” mean for you?

NB: Conspiracy on a social and political level is a premise for deception, which is prevalent to painting and seems to operate quite lucidly in the thoughts of mainstream conspiracy theorists like Robert Anton Wilson. This of course is not new- its part of political history, any political decision is conspiratorial. This butts up against the problem of authenticity, which is an art-world hang up. The infamous David Icke is not only a conspiracy theorist he is a conspiracy himself -we are uncertain of his beliefs and convictions. This relates to what I think it means to be an artist/ play-artist. Pretence can transgress into a truth and that premise is the key to the work.

LC: The works are often formed out of that cultural stuff posters, DVD covers, alarm boxes and signs, they historically and geographically locate the work. Do they also politically locate the work? I am thinking of the alarm box sculpture; as well as being rendered a formal object by you it also connotes other signification, prohibition and capital for example?

NB: A few years ago I was making proto-kitchen sink cartoon paintings of where I lived. I’m still interested in a direct engagement with my surrounding landscape. The alarm box is a ubiquitous object- it is everywhere. Alarm boxes have formed into a mini-culture of their own with a set of signifiers. There’s what’s printed on them, sometimes it can be an image of a dangerous animal or a word like ‘thorn’. The shapes vary but they often use fearful geometric symmetry to imply an unnatural or even super-power. The icing on the cake is that many alarm boxes are just decoys, an empty promise filled with paranoia. They are the dubious uncle to the already malignant CCTV camera.

LC: Are there any key differences for you between the paintings and the sculptures?

NB: In terms of how they might be perceived there is, they function in different modes of operation. But for me there is no difference. The making and the content still requires me to consider the material. If you’re not paying attention that relationship can fall apart – go beyond the point of sustaining currency. I do have a problem with reconciling a use of quasi-craft objects that can signify the everyday and the cultural currency of canvas painting but unless you undo that hierarchy you are in a colder sack. Household paint is only that in name alone.

LC: Do you consider the show as a selection of works, or as a coherent installation?

NB: Can I flip a coin? Well what I mean to say is it’s a selection of works as an incoherent, but comprehendible, installation. 

LC: The title of your current show is “Progressive Collapse”; a term used to describe the failure of a primary structural element, resulting in damage that is disproportionate to the original. Could you expand on the ideas raised by the title, particularly I'm interested in the notion of failure as self-generating?

NB: The title seemed pinpoint, in respect to the relationship between craft and appropriation which is in part what I'm doing… It’s a hard one…failure- hmm… it’s more like deliberately breaking something in order to mend it. The use of the term ‘progressive collapse’ was intended to remove it from its original context- to disrupt it- and to generate a non-literal passage through an activity.

Lydia Corry

'Synaesthetic Relief', oil paint, bees wax and resin on canvas over board, 60cm x 40cm, 2010

'Synaesthetic Relief', oil paint, bees wax and resin on canvas over board, 60cm x 40cm, 2010