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Website: Chestnuts Design

Metacolour: Adam Barker-Mill at Bartha Contemporary London

22 January to 12 March 2016

A review by Tim Barnes

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

Has any painter invented a new colour? Adam Barker-Mill’s solo exhibition, Metacolour, seems to search for it. Installations appear to systematically split the spectrum of natural light and, almost like alchemical experiments, they study the transitions from colour to colour.

From LED installations to watercolour paintings, each artwork provides a unique platform for light to show its dynamic quality. The light in the gallery animates Barker-Mill’s installations as they work to channel this phenomenon, and very little additional electric light is required from the gallery, which feels somehow cave-like as the artworks are left to glow on the darkened walls.   

Rotor v4, a motorised kinetic sculpture, rotates two circular shapes. This movement is obvious from the side, but from the front it isn’t detectable. The light that falls on the sculpture has nothing to exploit, and so cannot show the sculpture’s movement, giving the false impression of something completely static.

Shadow Gap is a sculptural study that allows the viewer to observe light captured from a nearby window, ebbing gradually away into darkness. A series of white blocks sandwiched between two MDF boards stagger what should be a smooth transition through a multi-tonal range into a divided series of uniform steps. At each step the intensity of light seems to decay by half, and inside the narrow gap this is a simple but spectacular effect.

Adam Barker-Mill, 5 Colour Boxes, 2016.

As some sculptures cast shadows, others cast light, and Barker-Mill’s colour boxes contain his material. These brilliant, radiant billows of colour, contained in divided cubicles, establish colourful light as a substantial and physical material, as though they are paints laid onto a palette in preparation for some extraordinary masterpiece.

5 Colour Boxes is just such a luminous palette of colour. Subtle changes can be detected in each box; the colours either mix or jar slightly in discordance with each hand-painted interior.

Blue Box contains two slightly differing iterations of a stirring deep blue. Testing their supremacy directly opposite each other, they jostle for prominence. Barker-Mill has very consciously chosen to experiment with these two very strong but similar colours, and by positioning them together as a pair, they vibrate with a mesmerising presence and allow his material to body forth.

Adam Barker-Mill, Circle in a square (mini), 2014

Circle in a square (mini) is a smaller sculptural assemblage. The gently looping colour changes recall the temporal nature of light, and this work perhaps mimics the cyclical nature of the sun as it rises, moves and sets in the sky.

The act of separating these colours from the vast spectrum of daylight reduces that natural occurrence to a more basic, fundamental form. Therefore, daylight could perhaps be considered a found material, or perhaps like an everyday material from which a readymade might be articulated.  

Throughout the whole exhibition there is a quiet elegance, created through rather basic ways and means, a simple genius that makes the everyday extraordinary. It is clear that this is a creative practice that has developed, not only through considered and deliberate choices, but also in playful discovery.

Barker-Mill rekindles our sensitivity to light. He reminds us that it’s something ever-present in visual art. With endlessly changing qualities and a glorious transcendental power surpassing all the objects in our environment, without light we would see nothing.

Installation shot: Metacolour, courtesy Bartha Contemporary