Stephen Appleby-Barr's paintings juxtapose fantastical and everyday objects, conjuring a dreamlike world which verges on the uncanny. Drawn to the intricate symbolism and aesthetics of old master painting, his sensitive and masterly use of oil paint creates deeply atmospheric works which transport the viewer into his otherworldly universe.
In a series of compelling new works created in 2020 for Robilant+Voena, Appleby-Barr's characters are situated in darkened rooms, illuminated from above by a strong light which catches on the reflective surfaces of glasses and bottles, and the pearls which he has scattered across tables, pedestals and wooden blocks. Inspired by handwriting letters to friends during lockdown, filled with illustrations and stories, each painting creates a narrative set in the artist's imagined world. Appleby-Barr's sitters are chosen from among his friends, and all project strong personalities. His dark, intimate settings, rich colours and dramatic lighting recall the work of renowned Baroque artists such as Caravaggio. He is captivated by figures emerging from darkness, a whole world created within a pool of light.
His still life paintings play with the genre, featuring anthropomorphic objects or sculptures which make explicit the concept of life arrested in stillness. Famous sculptures, such as the Marly Horses or John Michael Rysbrack's statue of Anthony van Dyck, are joined by cloves of garlic, shells, teacups, and a host of other eclectic objects hint at symbolism without overtly revealing their secrets. Appleby-Barr's allusions remain enigmatic, leading the viewer in whimsical circles as they try to puzzle out a definitive meaning. These intimate paintings pull the viewer into the scene. Although they draw on the visual language of old master paintings, they also speak to contemporary life in their unique combination of romance and allusion.
Exhibition in collaboration with Carolyn H. Miner.
Press release courtesy Robilant+Voena.