Drawing on the rules of the new age

Sketch artist’s surreal New World Aristocracy explores identity, conflict and colonization

  • I never forget a face, let alone a turkey face: One of Ted Barker’s bizarre sketches.

“With every meeting of cultures there is struggle,” reads Ted Barker’s artist statement for his new exhibition, New World Aristocracy, at the Semai Gallery.

The struggle Barker’s statement references is the conflict of man versus nature. Yet Barker’s drawings don’t portray any physical struggle. The figures in his drawings are calm and composed.

The staged quality of the portraits is hard to ignore. Barker feels that his drawings mimic the pieces they were derived from.

These men, who initially posed with such confidence, are now posing to prove they have tamed the wilderness. But clearly the wilderness has tamed them.

Barker’s drawings investigate the dialogue between these two vastly different elements that are part of Canada’s origins: European-looking men and the untamed wilderness.

Intriguingly, Baker has chosen to keep all his pieces untitled and his figures anonymous.

“By keeping the figures ambiguous, they become representatives of a greater whole,” he stated.

Technically strong, Barker’s drawings are visually engaging, with detailed depictions of hands, furniture, clothes, animals and faces full of character within each composition.

The most impressive drawings are the full-body portraits of figures sitting on ornate chairs.

Barker’s drawings are able to communicate these unbelievable situations no matter how surreal they appear. He fabricates a new and believable history in this latest series of drawings despite their surrealistic nature.

Very serious looking men with feathers in their beards or birds on their heads sounds comical, but it actually looks incredibly believable.

Old world etchings and photographs inspired Barker’s series of portraiture. In describing his process, Barker said he collages collected visuals elements using Photoshop and then reworks these new images, rendering them in graphite. The transfer back to graphite is important because it brings the work back to looking like an old etching again.

This collection of 11 drawings is an evolution of Barker’s thesis at the University of Manitoba (where he received his BFA in 2007), as his depictions of politicians in the wild began to take the form of painting.

Barker is currently working on a new collection of paintings.

With New World Aristocracy, Barker raises some interesting questions about identity, especially in reference to our history as Canadians.

How much of a role does our Canadian wilderness play in who we are?

With these drawings he succeeds in his “desire to make sense of one’s identity and the identity of one’s home,” not by offering solutions to who we are, but by raising questions about who we think we were.

New World Aristocracy runs until Thursday, Dec. 17 at the Semai Gallery (264 McDermot Ave.).

Published in Volume 64, Number 14 of The Uniter (December 3, 2009)

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