Anna Barriball Fruitmarket Gallery Edinburgh

March 2012

Publication: The Times

Visual Art: Giles Sutherland

Anna Barriball

Fruitmarket Gallery


Until 9 April, 2012


It’s not easy to label the work of Anna Barriball (who was born in Plymouth in 1972) but the term ‘interventionist’ seems appropriate – at least in respect of the majority of her drawings, sculptures, films and installations.

The image of a four-panel, domestic interior door lies encased in a glazed frame tilted against a large white expanse of wall.  Again the search for terminology seems necessary and what comes to mind is frottage because the ‘image’ is in fact a direct impression of the door created by intense and painstaking rubbing with graphite on paper. It’s what some theorists call an ‘index’, in that it has a direct relationship to the object which it represents. 

It’s an arresting statement: this shiny, shimmering, slate grey mass. It turns out that this is one of Barriball’s favoured techniques. Elsewhere there are large, dark crumpled forms that lean into the corners of the gallery. The presence of these bulky grey forms is vaguely disquieting, threatening even. On closer observations these are revealed as rolled paper, again painstakingly rubbed and covered with graphite – a combination of drawing and sculpture.

Elsewhere, ‘Soundproof’ comprises a series of repeated forms, again drawn in pencil, that have been stencilled onto the gallery walls. The patterning is geometric, replicated, ordered and the title perhaps derives from the idea that acoustic tiles have been used as the stencil.

Another of Barriball’s interventions consists of a series of framed photographs where all elements except a single window have been obscured by the card mount.  These ‘found’ images are used by Barriball to convey similarities and commonalties but they also point to another aspect of her work: obscuration and alteration.

‘Breaths’, from 2002, comprises thirty-six found photographs that have been mounted as a single work. Here Barriball’s intercession comes in the form of blots of ink that have been blown with a straw or tube to partially cover the image. Although the images themselves are ‘found’, they have been selected nevertheless. The small, square black-and-white snapshots with serrated edges show a family holidaying, perhaps in Italy, in the ‘fifties or ‘sixties. Barriball’s spidery shapes somehow deface and distort these memories five or six decades after the fact.

Returning to the theme of windows, ‘Mirror Window Wall’ plays with the idea of representation, illusion and reality.   These are not – as they initially appear – a set of four windows but a series of sixteen framed rubbings of brick walls; the gaps between the frames create the illusion of astragals. Here the silver paper has been abraded by the surface of the wall, capturing the bricks (and the pointing between them) in a crude form of relief and indentation.

Those who strive to extract meaning, symbolic, metaphoric or otherwise from Barriball’s work with look in vain, for in its simplest sense, the medium (and hence, Barriball’s way of working) is the message. That message is about the artist’s joy, her facility in the use of materials – as well as the way that she deftly defies the now apparently defunct categories ‘drawing’ and ‘sculpture’.


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