Per Barclay

Studio E Gallery

It would have been unimaginable for the young Norwegian artist Per Barclay to have escaped the influence of Edvard Munch (1863–1944). And in fact, there are numerous allusions to Munch in Barclay’s work: the dramatic use of color, the apparitional figures, the juxtaposed planes of vision. It matters little that the materials used and the expressive formulations are diverse; one breathes in the same atmosphere, laden with symbols and apprehension.

In Barclay’s work there is no formal separation between painting and sculpture. Both are utilized in an articulate esthetic declaration that is not bound by definitions of genre; rather, it is an attempt to project painting beyond the limits of the wall, to paint in three dimensions. The ten untitled works that were shown here are in mixed media, including cardboard, wood, bolts, gauze, plaster, and oil and enamel paint. The surfaces of these skeletal wooden “boxes”—some without a front face, some without sides—are rough and unhomogeneous, stratified layers of painted plaster and other materials that are projected outward toward the viewer. The recurrent image, either painted or collaged onto the surface or implicit in the structure itself, is that of a doorway embellished by an architrave, a cornice, or a plaster splay Barclay explicitly indicates that painting is a site to be penetrated and inhabited. With brilliant colors—light blues, oranges, reds—he entices us to enter, or, occasionally, blocks the space with black, holding us at the threshold.

The iconography of the door and the three-dimensional construction determine an equivocal approach to these works. A strictly frontal view is not sufficient to cover the volume of the objects; we find ourselves needing to move about, to seek other vantage points in order to penetrate the threshold of the apparent. But in adjusting one’s line of sight, a certain cubistic decomposition of the forms occurs; the result is a maze in which we find ourselves captive. Each new viewpoint allows us to discover a different, often conflicting image: laterally, crosses appear, symbolically obstructing further access; on the inside panels of the boxes, spaces open up or sketches interweave, barely hinting at figurative narrative.

The convergence of these visual planes creates a complex, intriguing experience. Barclay’s objects enclose microhistories, unsettling tales without happy endings. The figures that sometimes materialize in the surfaces are aerial ectoplasms; they convey a feeling of discomfort, or perhaps incipient desire. The figures do not evolve beyond a fetal state except in one case—a dramatic white face against which black eye sockets are silhouetted, its expression, which barely emerges from a scrim of black smoke, one of grief. Placed against the far wall of the gallery, it seemed to want to close the series of boxes, posing an ulterior enigma. This is the enigma of the secret face, the features of the spirit, which cannot be unmasked without using one’s “third eye,” the eye of the mind. Symbolically, this is the same process employed by Munch in his Studies for the Artist’s Damaged Retina, 1930–31. Instead of anxiously reaching out to capture the “real” world that escaped his sight, Munch used his temporary eye ailment as an instance to read the inverted images that lay behind his damaged retina. In hiding the true depth of volumes, in proposing only partial views of objects, Barclay restricts the observer to a backward route, from the illuminated surface toward the hidden interior, as in an examination of the back of the eye. Meanwhile, on a structural level, he suggests that painting in and of itself is only one of the possible routes for knowing reality. What is visible on the painting surface can be annulled by what the painting hides.

Ida Panicelli

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.