Barry De More – Studio Visit
By David Traves
DavidTraves©all rights reserved
Upon entering Barry De More’s studio the first thing that hits me is the sheer volume of the work, his paintings and charcoal sketches gaze back at me from every vantage point. De More’s work is not just hung upon every wall of his studio, but also lines the floor vertically stacked often as many as five canvases deep. As I adjust to the space and its sensory overload I begin to notice yet more work: paintings and sketches lying face-up on work benches, resting upon haphazard easels, sitting upon artlessly fashioned shelving, framed and unframed, large canvases and small. Even a stern self-portrait fixing me with a disconcerting stare from the back of the studio door, where it is partially obscured by Barry’s jacket hanging on a peg. Nestled among the paintings and sketches are fascinating little experiments in sculpture, fashioned from a range of materials.
The next thing that becomes apparent to me is the range and variety of the work I am struggling to take in. Before the studio visit I knew little of Barry De More excepting he was a fine artist whose work was solidly grounded in the expressionist style and very much in the tradition of British Masters of the genre such as Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach. Besides this I knew that his studio was in West Yorkshire and that he had had more than a little success both exhibiting and selling his work. I had in point of fact been put in touch and recommended to De More by Shaun Smyth another talented Expressionist artist, whose work I have made my study and the subject of much of my writing. De More a friend, contemporary of and somewhat of a mentor to Smyth, had simply called me up unexpectedly in early December and with little preamble invited me to come and see his studio. Looking about me the challenge of contemplating the range of De More’s work became apparent. Expressionist portraits, self-portraits, cityscapes, landscapes and more met my eye. Charcoals sketches and with oils layered so thickly that it gave the bewildering effect of each piece being several, as whilst I moved carefully about the studio each fresh perspective presented me with an original and distinct work, such was the depth of texture.
This effect of paintings appearing quite differently depending on our perspective is something we take for granted in an evenly spaced and spacious gallery; it was however quite another effect when overwhelmed by contemplating the bulk of an artist’s life work chaotically displayed in one room. I make some off-hand remark to De More about appreciating how the chaotic studio contrasted with the unmistakable skill and intention of the work and immediately regret it; “Is it? I thought it was well organised, I’ve tidied it”. The surprise in his voice was genuine. From here on I let my girlfriend who has accompanied me to satisfy her own curiosity about Barry De More’s work do most of the talking for me. This arrangement suits us both as she makes for a better audience, her feedback more considered and tactful than my own, leaving me free to scribble furiously into my note book. Barry talks with an unstudied eloquence in a straight forward, unpretentious way about his work, which nevertheless gives considerable insight into his work.
One thing I cannot help but comment on is the occasional obvious departures from De More’s Expressionist style. These included a roof top view in picture postcard Realism of a pretty Northern town I cannot place and a near perfect recreation of Monet’s 1869 work La Grenouillère, “I had the makings of a pretty decent forger” says De More wryly and I suspect he is only half joking. I find out later that these works were stops along the road De More had to travel to find his true artistic voice as an Expressionist. When taking about his ‘pre’expressionist pieces Barry says: “They were ‘sellable’ things, but I would look at them and say I’m not getting anywhere with them, there is none of me in there”. It was at Bradford collage as a mature student that Barry De More is first introduced to the expressionists, where he would later return as a qualified teacher. This exposure to Expressionism reinvented De More as a painter “I had to learn to see afresh…It’s fantastic I love it, I just paint from the heart, I interact with the paint”. The proof that these were more than words was all around me in the volume and intensity of his Expressionist works.
Much of De More’s work is dark and brooding, not just his charcoal portraits but his oil paintings too and despite working in colour De More says of himself, “I’m not a colourist”. He talked of working indoors spending years working on shades. The evidence of this was clear in the subtlety of his dark colour palette. However, small touches of colour in his work speak to his genius. De More draws my attention to a diminutive oil painting of a nude reclining woman; it’s otherwise dark and subtle palette accentuated by a small fleck of an almost electric blue. The simple yet absolutely essential inclusion of this vivid spot, in a wonderfully subdued expressionist oil painting could be an analogy for the attention to detail De more gives to his work despite the sheer volume of it on display.
When I arrived at Halifax station where I had arranged to meet the Expressionist painter, I was (having never before set eyes on Barry De More) more than a little worried about how I would pick him out of the crowd. I was however left in little doubt that the grey bearded man, ageing yet sturdily built with the marks of oil paint clearly visible on his clothes, was the artist I had come to meet. Now seeing him standing among his life’s work he seemed almost indistinguishable from his art. If putting something of himself into his art had been his aim, I doubted even he was aware how completely he had succeeded. It was not just the numerous self-portraits that represent De More so fully, but each and every piece that had something of him in it. In the lines of the faces of the men and women of industry at work he had sketched, was something of his own thoughtful yet matter-of-fact expression. The gestural marks and decisive strokes on the canvas, the brooding colour pallet, even the buildings in his art are intangibly but incontrovertibly reflective of the man.