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Website: Chestnuts Design

Metacolour: Adam Barker-Mill at Bartha Contemporary, London

22 January to 12 March 2016

A review by Ben Woodeson

Ostensibly, Adam Barker-Mill’s recent solo exhibition, Metacolour, at Bartha Contemporary in London’s Margaret Street, looks like a quiet meditation on colour and light; small, domestic works, undemanding things for nice comfortable homes. However, as is so often the case, looks can be deceptive as first impressions give way to sustained examination.

The exhibition includes several watercolours, a few seemingly back-lit circular works and a number of changing segmented pieces that can only really be described as light boxes; literally constructed wall works, sectioned into open-ended boxes, each of which is lit by a small coloured lamp.

Installation shot: Metacolour, courtesy Bartha Contemporary

There is a lot of deceptive, deliberate non-perfection; everything you see looks crisply, superbly, almost clinically made; but step out of the ordinary, look closer, look under, over, behind - and there is a very human quality to the fabrication. Arguably this is best epitomised by two large watercolours, Lemon Yellow – Cadmium Yellow Mid (2015) and Indian Yellow (2015); both works demonstrate a strong, almost obsessive attention to detail, with specially-made paper to achieve the ideal white, and subtle bars evidencing the colour change between white and their named yellow. As demonstrated by other more expressive works in the exhibition, Barker-Mill clearly knows and uses the organic nature of watercolour paints, yet here it feels that he undertakes an almost Sisyphean task, trying to create perfect, man-made blocks of nested shifting colour from this most diffusible of materials. From a distance, they could be clinical, and yet, spend the time, get close, and they reward with a very human sense of involvement.

Lemon Yellow - Cadmium Yellow Mid, 2015. Watercolour on handmade paper. 44.3 x 89.2 cm

Also presented in the front gallery are two sectioned light boxes, Blue Box (2016) and 5 Colour Boxes (2016). These particularly reward a bit of slow time…each individual section is painted in a different colour; the colours come alive - or not - from the reflected lamplight. Sweeping on past, after giving the light works a cursory glance, they seem attractive, not pretty exactly, but quietly pleasing to the eye. Gazing round the space, something nags at your peripheral vision. Turn back and you notice that the box works have changed; their light sources periodically, and gradually, change colour. Not so much a light show as a slow brightening or shifting; each new colour emanating from the lamps reacts differently with the boxes’ painted colours. Enquiry reveals that the lamps are an off-the-shelf product, but the complexity of the reflected light and its cycling relationships with its neighbours is anything but mass-produced.

(L) 5 Colour Boxes, 2016. Valchromat, aluminium, acrylic paint and LED lamps, 26.8 x 127.3 x 23.2 cm.(R) Blue Box, 2016, Valchromat, PVC, acrylic paint and LED lamps, 26.8 x 48.7 x 23 cm. Installation image courtesy of Bartha Contemporary.

Along the wall, Rotor v4 (2016) further develops the sensation of almost-but-not-quite stillness. Fabricated from powder-coated aluminium, two small monochrome circles hide behind a larger circle with a central void. Visible behind the piece something technical is happening; a wire and other gubbins can just be seen. Looking into the centre of the work, the smallest monochrome circle seems to brighten and dim, cycling, quietly, gently. Nudged by its proximity to the light boxes, one’s thoughts turn to dimming lamps and electronics, and yet, persistent viewing reveals that the work itself is silently, slowly and unobtrusively revolving. The physical construction hidden behind the work contains an opening that allows the passage of light; the piece is lit from above, and the variation in light intensity is simply a result of the rotating opening lining up with the ceiling light - and yet none of this is readily apparent. Again, Barker-Mills seems to be offering us two versions of the work, our experience overtly affected by the length of time we allow for the experience.

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

Rotor v4, 2016. Powder-coated aluminium, PVC, silent motor, ø 40 cm x 18.4 cm. Image courtesy of Bartha Contemporary

The back room shows a number of other works; several mixed watercolours and evolving light pieces. Varying in size and impact, the light pieces are square with a central circle or void, depending on the specific work. As before, these are lit from within by colour-changing lamps, they cycle, the colour shifting, they are simpler, more straightforward. The circular motif is lit, it gradually changes colour, brightens and dims, and they are beautiful - and yet I found myself returning, both mentally and physically, to the light boxes in the front room. The quiet complexity of the colour relationships in the light boxes seems to add immeasurably to the experience, both of the individual works and of the exhibition as a whole.

Chroma 9, 2015. Valchromat, LED lamps, 70 cm x 70 cm x 31.8 cm. Image courtesy of Bartha Contemporary

As a viewer, as always, you can choose how you wish to engage. With these works, do you stand separate, engaging with them as active changeable images, or do you step through the mirror? Close up, they mutate from images to objects, constructions, human in scale, just as engaging, maybe even more so; little bits of human life, paint that has crept under masking tape, a fold in an electric power cord. They’re slow, almost glacial, meditative yet surprising; evolving; a quietly-changing series of relationships, encouraging the viewer to take time out, to pause for an intimate moment of semi-stillness, colour and reflection.

Blue Box (detail), 2016, Valchromat, PVC, acrylic paint and LED lamps, 26.8 x 48.7 x 23 cm. Image courtesy of Bartha Contemporary.