Biography

Sophie Barber (b. 1996, St Leonards-on-Sea, UK) is a painter who draws directly from the world around her, reproducing natural and manmade fragments in an attempt to preserve and process their forms. Depicting tents, bird hides and word games on monumental block-colour canvases, Barber creates surreal, folk-like compositions that are less depictions of her native Sussex coast than distillations of the impression it leaves. ‘Her paintings do not seek to definitively record a singular object or place’, writes critic Philomena Epps of Barber’s recent paintings, ‘they are not about Burwash, Hastings, Bexhill, but rather they elicit a frame of reference or mode of seeing that sets a kind of scene’.

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Barber works in the nearby town of Hastings. Upon graduating from University of Brighton at Sussex Coast College Hastings in 2017, she was awarded the CVAN South East Platform Graduate Award, which is run in partnership between Aspex, De La Warr Pavilion, MK Gallery, Modern Art Oxford and Turner Contemporary. Speaking of Barber’s work at the time, Paul Hobson, Director of Modern Art Oxford, noted: ‘We were all struck by the coherence of Sophie’s painting practice and her already confident and distinctive artistic voice.’ In the years since, Barber has continued to refine this voice through numerous solo and group exhibitions – from Goldsmiths CCA, London, to La Maison de Rendez-vous, Brussels – developing an ambitious and dynamic painterly practice that playfully toys with the possibilities of scale, reference and materiality. ‘Her mode of production is spontaneous and unfettered’, writes Epps: ‘representations are edited, distilled, or shown in isolation, with any figuration tending to drift into the realm of the fictional.’

Barber’s paintings exist as aggregations of her immediate surroundings. In her recent solo exhibition at Goldsmiths CCA, ‘The Greatest Song a Songbird Ever Sung’, three monumental canvases combined textual fragments and references to the Sussex coastline with various depictions of shelters: bird hides and dens, heavy tarpaulin tents that corresponded with the unstretched material on which they were rendered. ‘I’m interested in things you can hide in’, says Barber, and this interest in spaces of concealment carries into her broader process: not only does she work with heavy layers of oil, each of which obscures the marks that came before, she also deconstructs the images that she paints, redistributing their components in a manner that obscures their original form. While the 2018 work Puffin at Pett Level does not explicitly depict the titular bird, its colouring is preserved in the red of a tent, a deep black background and the yellow edge of a moon. In Canary Club (2019), the implied yellow of the title is squeezed into a pyramid-like shelter.

‘I’m interested in the weight of things’, Barber has noted, ‘heaviness and things collapsing’. This is an allusion to both the material qualities of her work, the way in which her unstretched canvases crease and slump like oversized clothes on shoulders, and the manner in which she collapses the very images she paints. Rarely is this process of playful reduction as evident as in the miniature works that Barber paints on tightly-wrapped offcuts of recycled canvas. (Barber operates at the extremes of scale; the middle, that which is easily controlled, is uninteresting.) On the irregular surfaces of these impastoed objects, Barber depicts the sculptural forms of such celebrated male gatekeepers as Giotto, Barry Flanagan and, most frequently, Franz West, their monumental public sculptures humorously reduced to squiggles and intentionally slipshod marks. (Flanagan is simply referred to as ‘Barry’; his iconic hare sculptures distilled to splotches of blue.)

These forms are replicated because, as with the tents that populate her larger canvases (‘structures that move with the weather and the world’), they have left such an impression on Barber that she feels compelled to do so. As is illustrated in a recent series of miniatures, onto which she has playfully reproduced the covers of ArtReview magazines that were strewn around her studio, this is repetition as an attempt to resolve, working over as a means to work out why certain forms stick with us. In this, Barber’s is a slow game of processing images: of replicating, reconfiguring and reconsidering visually arresting forms until they reveal themselves to be something other than they were before – or collapse completely, like the pink spirals of a Franz West sculpture or the heavy walls of a circus tent.

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Works

Hiding at Hythe, 2020

Oil on canvas
559 x 398 cm (220 1/8 x 156 3/4 in)
Courtesy: © Sophie Barber

Piero’s Chapel by the Moon, 2020

Oil on canvas
7.2 x 11.8 x 4.5 cm (2 7/8 x 4 5/8 x 1 3/4 in)
Courtesy: © Sophie Barber

Art Review by Craig Green, 2020

Oil on canvas
13 x 8 x 4 cm (5 1/8 x 3 1/8 x 1 5/8 in)
Courtesy: © Sophie Barber

Franz dies a sculptor, 2020

Oil on canvas
4.4 x 6.5 x 2.5 cm (1 3/4 x 2 1/2 x 1 in)
Courtesy: © Sophie Barber

Four Fucksakes 2017 Installation view by Phoebe Cripps, 2020

Oil on canvas
12 x 7.5 x 5.5 cm (4 3/4 x 3 x 2 1/8 in)
Courtesy: © Sophie Barber

Wilson’s bird of paradise, 2021

Oil on canvas
8.5 x 14.5 x 5.5 cm (3 3/8 x 5 3/4 x 2 1/8 in)
Courtesy: © Sophie Barber

Birds Will Hide, 2019

Oil on canvas
379 x 249.2 x 190 cm (149 1/4 x 98 1/8 x 74 3/4 in)
Courtesy: © Sophie Barber

jeppe ugelvig at Pompidou, 2020

Oil on canvas
21.5 x 28 x 8.5 cm (8 1/2 x 11 1/8 x 3 3/8 in)
Courtesy: © Sophie Barber

Birds Sing at Chapel, 2020

Oil on canvas
395 x 297 cm (155 1/2 x 116 7/8 in)
Courtesy: © Sophie Barber

Franz table legs die, 2020

Oil on canvas
14 x 20 x 5.5 cm (5 1/2 x 7 7/8 x 2 1/8 in)
Courtesy: © Sophie Barber

Franz at Pett Level, 2020

Oil on canvas
3 x 4.5 x 4.2 cm (1 1/8 x 1 3/4 x 1 5/8 in)
Courtesy: © Sophie Barber

Palm tree on Craig Green jacket, 2020

Oil on canvas
13 x 8 x 5 cm (5 1/8 x 3 1/8 x 2 in)
Courtesy: © Sophie Barber

Kim and Kanye by Juergen again, 2021

Oil on canvas
13 x 9.5 x 4.5 cm (5 1/8 x 3 3/4 x 1 3/4 in)
Courtesy: © Sophie Barber

At Pompidou, 2020

Oil on canvas
2.5 x 3.8 x 1.8 cm (1 x 1 1/2 x 3/4 in)
Courtesy: © Sophie Barber

William loves mounds in Cahokia, 2021

Oil on canvas
6.3 x 9 x 2.5 cm (2 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 1 in)
Courtesy: © Sophie Barber

The Greatest Song a Songbird Ever Sang, 2019–20

Oil on canvas
412.5 x 399 cm (162 3/8 x 157 1/8 in)
Courtesy: © Sophie Barber

  • Hiding at Hythe, 2020
  • Piero’s Chapel by the Moon, 2020
  • Art Review by Craig Green, 2020
  • Franz dies a sculptor, 2020
  • Four Fucksakes 2017 Installation view by Phoebe Cripps, 2020
  • Wilson’s bird of paradise, 2021
  • Birds Will Hide, 2019
  • jeppe ugelvig at Pompidou, 2020
  • Birds Sing at Chapel, 2020
  • Franz table legs die, 2020
  • Franz at Pett Level, 2020
  • Palm tree on Craig Green jacket, 2020
  • Kim and Kanye by Juergen again, 2021
  • At Pompidou, 2020
  • William loves mounds in Cahokia, 2021
  • The Greatest Song a Songbird Ever Sang, 2019–20

Press

Certified Lover Boy: Becky Hemus on Sophie Barber

Becky Hemus, The Art Paper

November 2021

Made on the Wing: Sophie Barber’s Love Birds

Sammi Gale, Plinth

September 2021

Critics’ Picks: Sophie Barber

Philomena Epps, Artforum

September 2021

Elephant’s Pick of September’s Essential Artists

Ravi Ghosh, Elephant

September 2021

Curator at Large: Exhibitions to See in September

Phin Jennings, Rise Art

September 2021

Charisma Everywhere: Sophie Barber

Rosie Cooper, Mousse

July 2021

In the studio with Sophie Barber

Julia Michiewicz, émergent magazine

June 2021

Sophie Barber, Chris Sharp Gallery

Keith J. Varadi, Contemporary Art Review LA

May 2021

Smaller is Beautiful

Francesca Gavin, Financial Times

February 2021

Alison Jacques Gallery Adds Sophie Barber to Roster

Claire Selvin, Tessa Solomon, Maximiliano Durón, ARTnews

November 2020

Growing Scenes for London Artists

Scott Reyburn, The New York Times

October 2020

Sophie Barber wins the Platform Graduate Award

Abigail Addison, FE News

December 2017

Exhibitions

Sophie Barber: How Much Love Can a Love Bird Love, Can a Love Bird Love a Love Bird

3 September – 2 October 2021

News

Sophie Barber

in ‘Particularities’, X Museum, Beijing

Sophie Barber: Kim and Kanye kiss without tongues

Chris Sharp Gallery, Los Angeles

Sophie Barber

in ‘Le Hangar’, La Maison de Rendez-Vous, Brussels

Sophie Barber: The Greatest Song a Songbird Ever Sung

Goldsmiths CCA, London