Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Wilford Barrington has made portraiture his central praxis in re-imagining traditional pictorial possibilities. His practice is founded in observational drawing, which takes place during studio visits; his models are usually friends or acquaintances. His work moves between a polarity of extremes: at one end is the portraitist creating a kind of situational autobiography, one that scrupulously records signifiers of the social and cultural contexts of his contemporaries. This aspect of his practice indirectly alludes to the brooding introspection of Wyndham Lewis or the rigorous scrutiny of Otto Dix; at the other extreme is an attention to creating a registration of embodied existence, while showing less concern for social or cultural context. Here, Barrington uses varieties of line and a necessarily limited range of tones to do justice to the frailty and impermanence of his sitters; in this he is reworking for himself the informal society portraits of Alex Katz. The combination is part of a complex attempt to explore the narrative possibilities prompted by discontinuous subjects and sittings. Do his drawings taken collectively create a poker-faced commentary on the lives of his contemporaries? Are they rigorous examinations of the much-vexed question of the psychological relationship of an artist and his model? If the latter is the case, Barrington's portraits are untraditional in this examination: he is as prone to address male as female sitters, and frequently his portraits examine masculine friendship as an iconographic possibility unusual in portraiture. He is equally ambivalent in his approaches to the traditional motif of the nude: In an age where the body is more than ever seen in the context of the sensationalized or the pornographic, his pictures question our need to see them that reductively: we wonder whether there is a certain unspoken collaboration between artist and model in this context, a performative display on the part of the model which the artist is merely facilitating. In this regard there is a realignment of the traditional relationships of sitter, portraitist and viewer: Barrington has tried to see what happens if he turns them inside out. He has used drawing as his means of entry into other media. In these works that he is attempting to add different levels of perceptual complexity to his drawing: to retry drawing by other means, as it were, and perhaps to even expose some of its limitations. The solidity of the drawn portraits (and certain assumptions underlying that solidity) are translated into the more discontinuous and fragmented medium of the collage. His paintings record of a recognition of the representational difficulties posed by portraiture that are evaded in drawing: color, tone and application must describe historical fact as much as formal ideal, and the paintings register how the complexities of one are often sacrificed for the simplicities of the other. In future work, Barrington intends to continue to refine and add to the areas encompassed by his practice.
Written by Stephen Rogers