by Michael Pearce, Ph.D
INTERVIEW WITH DANIEL BARKLEY, ALLEGORICAL FIGURATIVE PAINTER
Montreal, Quebec ~
Michael Pearce: Daniel, am I right in thinking that while you often paint gold in your work, you don’t use the material itself?
Daniel Barkley: I have glued gold leaf to canvas in the traditional way in the past. I was never satisfied with this technique. The result is constantly changing, depending on where you stand or where the painting is placed and what kind of light is falling on the painting. I have tried several times, and in the end painted over it. That does get a little expensive when you’re using the real stuff.
Daniel Barkley: I started working with gold leaf about three years ago. I’d been looking at images of the angels cast out of heaven by Flemish painters.
Daniel Barkley: In Calgary, I’d seen WWI body armor, and was trying to find a way to integrate it into a painting. I immediately started thinking about archangel Michael, the soldier of Heaven, the enforcer. I gold-leafed the armor with real gold leaf, yet I so disliked the results I painted over it. You can still see some leaf twinkling below here and there.
Daniel Barkley: Michael has successfully imprisoned his brother angel under the ice as he does in Dante’s Inferno. Under the ice we can see gold leaf. Here gold represents the most beautiful angel, Lucifer.
Daniel Barkley: I took up the subject again in the painting, Brother’s Keeper.
Daniel Barkley: In many paintings, Michael’s armor is gold and fashioned like a Roman chest plate, muscular and ripped. I thought I might just do that: gold leaf the model. Of course I thought I was the first to think of sticking the gold-leaf directly onto the model. Then I started seeing this everywhere on the internet, in advertisement, on Facebook.
[quote]I am always telling the kids that there is nothing new under the sun, it is you and what you bring to it that will make it new again.[/quote]
Daniel Barkley: Using gouache paint, I first painted the model with the traditional red bole color to imitate the way in which gold leaf is applied. Using shlagg, or Dutch gold, I tried to get the model to do some of the gluing work. But I was much too fastidious with my applications and it all looked too ordered and thought-out.
[quote]So when the gilding was done, I sprayed the model with water to see what kind of chaos would ensue. Excellent results led me to do more. I tried without the bole color beneath. The bole ran down the model’s body looking a lot like blood. Not really where I wanted to go with this idea of the archangel. Next, I applied the gold leaf by spraying water on the skin first. Certainly the model was uncomfortable and cold, but models are always fussing about one thing or the other. This technique added visual rigor to the whole process that I am quite pleased with.[/quote]
I am still working with this technique. I’ll let you know how it goes.
It is certainly a technical challenge to paint the image of gold leaf. One doesn’t paint gold leaf in a state of agitation. I wait till I am alert, calm and focused. It’s a trompe l’oeil, a series of well-placed triangles. I never use yellow or yellow ochre. Gold is never gold-colored. Gold reflects the surfaces around it.
Michael Pearce: I love that you paint male figures. They feel vulnerable. Is this deliberate? Or is that something that just happens?
Daniel Barkley: It must just happen. I try to capture a certain truth even when they play a character. The models are my friends mostly. Until I asked them, none had ever posed nude or clothed for a painter. Apprehension, certainly, the first time, but after ten years, or twenty as with Rob or Grant, I think not. Vulnerable because they are not professional models, able to detach themselves. They present us with their thoughts, their feelings, their unease, their trust.
Michael Pearce: These are not paintings of Hemingway’s manly men or Nietzsche’s supermen. They’re much more grounded in reality; more emotionally open. Do you ask your models to express their emotion, or does it emerge from your choice of pose and in your painting process? Where does the sensitivity come from?
Daniel Barkley: I have always admired the representation of the heroic worker of the Soviet era, the hero of the revolution, the manly Slav in choreographed, homoerotic pose, chest pushed out, buns tightly clenched. I am seduced by the rigor of the art-deco design and layout, the repetition of movement and color. Propaganda at its best.
Daniel Barkley: Whenever I have tried to engage in this stylized opera, I have failed miserably. I start again, and the ideas stray to the noble laborer. A conventional man, fit, with average good-looks. A different bird altogether from the glistening muscles of Soviet propaganda. I love and am inspired by the sculptures of Constantin Meunier.
Daniel Barkley: He represents the decent, moral and determined laborer of the nineteenth century. Granted, a romantic figure in his eyes and probably mine as well. And yet a figure I am familiar with.[quote] At the moment that I write this, my arms are sore from a day at the scene-shop. I work in theatre as a scenic painter. Contrary to what most think of as a “fun” job painting faux marble and baroque back drops, a scenic painter’s day consist mostly of lifting heavy flats and scenery, preparing surfaces and cleaning-up. I work with carpenters, welders and technicians. We are craftsmen, proud of our contribution. Luckily for me, a number of these craftsmen have agreed to be models.[/quote] I spend twelve to sixteen weeks a year at the theatre. Two to three weeks at a time, a welcome diversion from the quiet of the studio.
Michael Pearce: I love the sensuousness of paint. I remember putting my hands in a bucket of it when I was painting walls, and loving the feeling of being covered in color, so I love the images of the models with paint all over them.
Daniel Barkley: [quote]I remember watching my father paint a bicycle when I was kid. The way he covered the old color, obscuring the scratches and rust. As if he was reinventing reality, creating a whole new feeling towards the bike, making it desirable again. The bike was meant for my older brother and we younger siblings were quite envious of his “new” bike. He was proud of it and his friends were impressed. A burgeoning understanding of the power of paint to create a new truth.[/quote]
Daniel Barkley: I don’t know where the idea of covering the model with color came from. I must have seen it in a painting or advertisement. My intention at first was to use paint as a costume for the model, to alter our perception of his body. The paint acts on different levels to add to the model’s interpretation of the character, to delineate status within the group, to reflect an emotional state. I started with clay for Lazarus back from the dead, a new man made of the same stuff as the first man. The technical challenge that this presented was the kind that I like. What two colors can I put beside one another to create this image? This project worked out well.
I chose blue next. Blue because it is the color that is furthest away from blood or shit.
When I first applied paint onto the model, I did an excellent job of it. Much too nice a job. The clumsy and haphazard application that resulted when I asked the model to paint himself produced results much more to my liking. Missing spots and getting others, a logic that was not mine and yet accomplishing what I had asked and set in motion.
Daniel Barkley: The model brings themselves to the painting. They are participants. I learnt this years ago with the help of my friend Lorna. I had asked her to be my Anchoress, a young woman of the middle ages who lived in a stone hut next to a church, to live there for who knows how long with only a window through which to pass food as recompense for performing penance for others too wealthy or busy to perform their own. I saw the character of the Anchoress as a victim of religion and religious fervor and directed my model accordingly.
Daniel Barkley: Lorna did not see her in this light. For her, the Anchoress was a woman of conviction. The Anchoress made the decision to live this life because of her faith. Lorna played her as such and gave the painting a much stronger female character, far from the victim I had envisioned when I first read of these women.
Since then, I have stayed far away from the victim. When I revisited Saint Sebastian for a group show, I took the same tack. He pulls his own bloodied arrows out. He fixes the viewer. He is not the writhing ephebe roped to a post, staring longingly toward heaven in his little tighty-whities, an object to be both pitied and lusted over.
[quote]My Narcisse does not succumb to his own reflection, but creates it, creating his own image. He is in control, an active character in the painting, not a victim. [/quote]
Daniel Barkley: My friend Vincent was an ideal model, being somewhere at the end of childhood and the beginning of the next phase of his life. He is constructing his idea of present and future self.
I have been very lucky with my models. They have inspired subjects.
Michael Pearce: Are the sensuous qualities of your paintings there for you, or for us? In other words, how do you feel about sharing sensuality? Is making a painting a personal experience?
Daniel Barkley: I have no idea how to answer this question.
I tell the kids to never paint for anyone but themselves.
Daniel Barkley: If you paint canvases to please the gallery and the client or your mom, you will never get anywhere, there will be a truth missing. I am my first audience. If I am unhappy with the painting no one will see it. If I am pleased and the thing leaves the studio, someone else will be pleased with it enough to take it home.
Michael Pearce: I’m intrigued by the performance your paintings describes. It reminds me a little of Nerdrum’s world of refugees. Have you written about the world you want to create? Set boundaries and described what it’s like? Or is it too loosely organized?
Daniel Barkley: Je fait mon chemin. Je chemine. Un cheminement.
I am a great admire of Mr. Nerdrum’s work and his mythology. I hope to be less dogmatic. I want it to remain uncertain as to what my characters are attempting. I leave clues as to what I think, yet encourage the spectator to bring his own interpretation. [quote]For me, it is about the journey. Journey as a state of mind, a state of life. Bicycles, boats, rafts, motor-bikes, wooden horses, often without wind, paddle, current or road. It’s more about how we fare on the journey than the destination.[/quote]
Michael Pearce: Finally, what’s next in your work? Can you tell me what you’re working on, what we can expect to see in upcoming shows?
Daniel Barkley: There are artists who map out their up-coming exhibitions in the manner of a Soviet five-year-plan. They will produce a specific number of canvases, prepare the layouts of a year’s work, choose palettes, sizes, etc. I work in a more organic fashion; one painting leads to next. By the time the show rolls around, I have what looks like a coherent and well-organized series. But I have meandred and soared and got stuck and then un-stuck.
Next: a book of drawings. I draw constantly. I have filled many sketchbooks over the years, and I dislike tearing out drawings from them for any reason. In twenty years I have regretfully done this twice. I have been urged to sell them individually, but I can’t bring myself to do so.
Daniel Barkley: In the spring, we will publish a book made up of images from these many sketchbooks. The launch will be accompanied by an exhibition of recent drawings to be held at Galerie Dominique Bouffard, here in Montreal.
Because it is almost a compulsion, I continue to paint. At the moment, I am working on ideas around the story of Ulysses. It’s the monsters in that story that I find compelling, especially Polyphemus the Cyclops.
|Awards for Daniel Barkley’s artwork
To enjoy more of Daniel Barkley’s work, please visit his website.
Michael Pearce PhD MFA is Associate Professor at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California, where he teaches figurative painting and drawing. Pearce also organizes the Representational Art Conferences.
His first column for Combustus was the widely-read, “What’s On Dino Vall’s Mind?“
But Dr. Pearce was first introduced to Combustus readers when he was interviewed along with British philosopher, Roger Scruton for the three-part series, “Why Beauty Matters.”
And his most recent column: “The Quietest Moments: Thirty Days of Destruction.”