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Philip Barlow's Blurry Eyes

Words:

Edd Norval
June 28, 2021

Philip Barlow's paintings have an amazing quality. If you don't trust your eyes that these paintings really are blurry then try giving them a rub. Still blurry? Good, they're supposed to be.

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In spending some time looking through Philip Barlow's work, you'll manage to pick out many themes - everyday life, family, contemporary life and the associated attachment and detachment. But there is one overarching theme that spans it all, it's his ultimate source of inspiration and subject for exploration - light.


It wouldn't be fair to call Barlow's work psychedelic, in the way that Into The Void is, nor are his painting's surreal, like a Dali, because they do portray reality. Perhaps a fairer description would be that they have a sleepy dream-like quality - real-life viewed through a kind of haze.


Sometimes we are lucky enough to experience that beautiful moment where the warmth of sleep is waiting for you, barely able to keep your eyes open in your fight to stay awake and the blurred world around you becomes your reality. It's this unique time and space that Barlow captures - a sensory purgatory of oneness.


Photorealistic paintings are always incredible on a technical level. It's a skill that a minutae of artists, never mind people, will ever be able to attain. That doesn't mean there aren't ideas here - they are idea-driven explorations of the way light interacts with everything in the world. Surfaces, skin, water-reflections and shadows are all committed to canvas, somehow, with a photographic likeness. That they're paintings and not actually photographs is hard to fathom and Barlow continues in this tradition, yet imbues his works with a strong sense of narrative as if they're stills from your own mind.

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Working out of South Africa, Barlow chooses daily life, the one that's constantly happening all around us at all times, as his humble subject. Trips to the beach and those hazy-eyed long car journeys or late-night half-drunken strolls through cities where we inexplicably feel most alive.


It's the lack of clarity that makes the pictures seem clearer to us as an audience. The rounded edges give us scope to add our own narrative - a seemingly mundane scene of someone walking down the street can now be imbued with any kind of meaning we want. The whole story isn't there, so naturally we fill in those blanks.


Seeing his own images as "a step towards abstraction" gives some indication to the creative thought behind them. Yes, they are real, even hyper-real, but removed enough from reality that begs us to really squint our eyes and look closely. In terms of place and description, his work inhabits the same late-night drive feeling that his paintings do - transcendental voyages between genre, place and time that transports us into a memoryscape filled with things we recognise yet have never actually seen.

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See more here: www.philipbarlow.com

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