Critics’ Picks

Sophie Barber, Justin loves gardeners world and monty don, 2021, oil on canvas, 116 1/8 x 83 1/2''.

Sophie Barber, Justin loves gardeners world and monty don, 2021, oil on canvas, 116 1/8 x 83 1/2''.


Sophie Barber

Alison Jacques
16 - 18 Berners Street
September 3–October 2, 2021

All is full of love, as Björk once sang (on a track she likened to “birds coming out after a thunderstorm”). At Alison Jacques, Sophie Barber has populated the gallery with lovebirds, both literal and metaphorical. Her bright, bucolic presentation—accented by the tongue-twister title “How Much Love Can a Love Bird Love, Can a Love Bird Love a Love Bird” (a riff on the old faithful, “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck…”)—plays with scale, mixing canvases great and small. Barber’s thickly impastoed output has ranged from paintings the size and heft of a ship’s sail, hung taut with raw edges, to those as diminutive as a beach pebble, wadded into chunky shapes.

This contemporary pastoral idyll brings together birds of paradise with celebrities and artists: the rare and the rarefied. Adjacent to Brooklyn and Nicola kiss in the bath and a photographer took a picture of them (all works 2021), and Skepta kisses Naomi Campbell’s neck, she likes it, feathered friends also are shown pecking (see Kissing on a perch at night), being petted (On finger tips), or peacocking to attract a mate (Magnificent Bird of Paradise [Cicinnurus magnificus] male displaying his green breast shield to a female above). Painted from pre-existing media images, Barber’s more famous subjects (at least to this writer, an ornithological novice) are transplanted into a homely, quintessentially British imagination. Annie Leibovitz’s photographs of Kendrick Lamar and Justin and Hailey Bieber, for Vanity Fair and Vogue respectively, are emblazoned with the phrases JUSTIN LOVES GARDENERS WORLD (a popular BBC television show) and KENDRICK LOVES CAMBER SANDS (a dune beach in East Sussex). Like an evening spent scrolling the infinity of the Instagram explore page, Barber's show is a humble spectacle of the exalted and the mundane, one in which both qualities are reimagined, rehashed, and eventually dedifferentiated.