‘I became a comedian because I wasn’t funny’ Andy Kaufman, Man on the moon, 1999 (dir. Milos Forman)
Launching g39’s new season of solo exhibitions is perhaps one of the most contested contemporary artists coming out of Wales today. Through his prolific scribblings, cartoons, observations and humorous commentaries, Barrie J Davies dismantles our understanding of the term ‘artist’ and in its place he has refashioned a persona whose mantra 'Barrie J Davies is an artist’ plays over and over in the background of his world.
The exhibition presents us with an abundance of works that appear to have been quickly dashed off. Biro cartoons, subversive signs felt-tipped and opportunistically taped in public places, everyday objects appropriated in a comedic manner. Davies’ practice comprises a number of lo-fi strategies for conveying apparently inconsequential thoughts or throwaway witticisms, and perhaps that’s all they are. Or perhaps collectively they are saying something larger and more complex about the value of art and nature of being an artist. Davies’ work conveys deliberately low production values. It hints at profundity before falling back into gag after hopeless gag. But for this exhibition a few pieces cut through the noise to quietly hint at a more vulnerable artist, somebody who is both pleased and ill at ease with this public self.
Entering the gallery the ballad starts small with left messages, magazine clippings and sentences that make drawings. This selection of his work appears to hint at a larger narrative of inter-connected items, photographs and drawings, the largest of which presides over the space as a billboard image, but it is only a hint.
On the middle floor the volume is turned up, visually and vocally, as the ballad continues. There is much more to take in, work stacked, stuck, hung and pinned. It’s an almost unbearable visual babble of voices and jokes, observations and aphorisms reflecting the way Davies works, a constant and continuous flood of ideas, each new thing replacing or adding to the last. Individually they are bearable but here they are overwhelming. As on the ground floor, there is an escape, looking up to an empty (ish) horizon on the billboard.
The top floor gives us a rest. The work here starts to reveal a BJD that gets lost in the noise, there are confessions, lines, I must not make anymore crap art, and an admission of self-doubt. He knows that he references existing works by well-known artists such as Ceal Floyer, Gavin Turk, Bob and Roberta Smith, David Shrigley and Martin Creed, as well as the world around him. As a whole, Davies’ practice seems to be suggesting that the artist’s role in society is solitary, an outsider, whose purpose is never cut-and-dried. But while he assesses his position in relation to the world around him, he continues to produce work.