The universe disintegrates … but within this irreversible process there may be areas of order…privileged points in which we seem to discern a design or a perspective.
- Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium
A key aspiration of any artist is to develop a distinctive style. Postmodern and playful, but never merely cute, at the same time both delicate and monumental, riddling and simple, Oliver Barratt’s work is sui generis, and this latest exhibition reaffirms that fact.
His work seems keyed at once to galactic largeness and infinitesimal smallness. ‘There is,’ as Vladimir Nabokov said, ‘in the dimensional scale of the world a kind of delicate meeting place…a point arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones, that is intrinsically artistic.’ Oliver Barratt seems to embody this artistic vision in his sculptures; his pieces seem at one moment to gesture at subatomic particles and in the next to hint at abysmal stretches of space and time.
Oliver’s work involves the negotiation between stillness and movement. Many of his pieces seem conceived at moments of connection or disconnection. In their elegance, instants of motion seem fused, frozen, arrested, with dynamic swirls of energy being wrestled and captured as in a snapshot. If Paul Klee is said to have taken the line for a walk, then Oliver Barratt seems to take the line for a violent dance.
The third feature that typifies this work is the polished, boldly monochromatic finish. The shapes seem to evoke congealments. Matter transforms from liquid to solid, as in Along Those Lines. The structures at first appear fragile, yet the impression one gains close up is one of robustness. Burnished, blood-red, white or ultramarine, there is here a tensile strength and muscularity, an elemental toughness – cellular, seminal, endlessly regenerative. But rather than being too neatly closed, many of the sculptures remain open as the substructure is exposed, a steel bone stripped of its skin of resin, lending a final quality of rawness.
The elastic sense of scale, the poise between motion and stillness, and the monochrome polish and strength – when combined, produce Oliver Barratt’s signature pieces. These new sculptures are numinously beautiful, redolent of heat yet supremely cool. They range from intricate, Escheresque constructions to linear squiggles and globular clusters, but each is unmistakably a Barratt.