Daniel Barkley’s newest work – gentle images of lads – is unlike traditional portraits, wherein clothing was painted in meticulous detail and revealed much about the sitter. These likenesses are nude. They are perfect in their naked realism. The artist uses photographs to jumpstart his approach to a persona. (‘‘Models get tired.’’) His approach is technically skilled. One recalls his ‘second life’ as a set painter for a Montreal theatre company.
Barkley’s latest work is young men. Against almost non-existent backgrounds, the full-length portraits show unclothed boys in all their vulnerability. The artist’s vision is an insightful synthesis of objective and subjective. Each has a quiet dignity, and a calm unchallenging gaze. Their limbs are languorous. Barkley also focused on the boys’ faces, and in these portrayals, he added clothing. With very slight changes he repeats one image of the same young chap: twice in a diptych and once in a triptych. Each hair is finely defined. One recalls Andrew Wyeth. The skin is perfectly captured. To truly appreciate the artist’s clever capturing of character, you have to approach the canvas; you have to get close to feel the work.
Daniel Barkley’s flesh treatment is akin to that of Lucien Freud. One notices strong, side-by-side strong strokes in ‘non-skin’ colours: blues, mauves, yellows and greens. Yet from a distance, these ‘patches’ merge to a delicate, translucent humanness. There is a careful calibration between the photorealism of the features and the looser strokes depicting the skin. Barkley meditates intimately on the essence of the lad, with his parted sensual lips and mussed-up hair as he peers, slightly frowning, at the viewer. This series is painted against an almost monochromatic ‘‘background soup’’, as the painter calls it. The artist also applies his personal hyperrealism in his watercolours. Here the bodies stand alone. There is no background. Just the pristine pure white of the paper, on which Barkley has controlled the watercolour medium perfectly to portray faces – some with amusingly grotesque grimaces, others with serene stares – and Michelangelo-reminiscent bodies. He often adds props such as an armour or fencing masks. He also adds thematic colour; in particular a special hue of blue. It is like Egyptian lapis lazuli blue, Yves Klein International Blue, and Prussian Blue. But it is Daniel Barkley’s ‘Niagara Falls Blue’ – the blue of the rainwear one wears as a tourist taking the boat to go under the mist of the Falls. Young bodies bend beatifically over bowls of blue-coloured water: they are baptized in Barkley’s blue. Another naked boy is wrapped in a Niagara Falls blue transparent cape. These full-length pictures are sensitively sensual, almost spiritual. One full-length portrait of a naked teen has the subtle suggestion of the man to come. His body is lean; his hips are narrow; his face is still young. However, his hands hang largely – a hint of the man within the boy. Therein lies the masterful talent of Daniel Barkley. He can capture the essence of man. Although in this new show the portrayals are, indeed, all masculine, he has mastered a sense of man in the humanistic sense. Using the timeless tradition of portraiture, these pieces have a universality that speaks to our fragility as we journey, with or without props, into the unknown. They document a moment in time, and in doing so, are as elegantly ephemeral as life itself.
The Weiss Gallery
1021 6th St. SW, Calgary, AL
Tel.: 403 262-1880
September 8 – October 8, 2011