Carlos Barrios was born in El Salvador in 1966. Following the Civil War of the 1980s, he moved to Queensland, Australia, where he works from today. Metro Gallery is proud to have represented Barrios for six years now. His upcoming exhibition, “Amor en el Campo/Love in the Country” represents a slight aesthetic departure for the Salvadoran artist. While his work from the last five or so years has been mostly monochromatic, the new body of work has been rendered with a more vibrant and varying palette. The exhibition will be on display from the 2nd to the 18th of May.
At the heart of Barrios’ work are contradictions of form, colour and subject matter. Single point perspective molds into a bird’s eye view, contrasting colours butt against each other, and cheerful children are juxtaposed by their sometimes foreboding surroundings. These polarities convey Barrios’ ambivalence to the scenes he is depicting. While the civil war in El Salvador (1980-1992) was a horrific period in his life, it also took place during his childhood, a part of his life which he looks back upon fondly. An association between joy and destruction seems to have been instilled within Barrios at an early age. He recounts how when he was six years old he “… discovered some pots of paint and brushes in my father’s workshop… One afternoon I planned a surprise for my parents. Whilst they were not around I created a large mural on a long corridor wall and was very proud of my achievement. On their return I was ordered to scrub the wall until it was spotless. I then tried using pictures and textures cut from encyclopedias and precious books. I was again reprimanded for my bad behavior.” In perhaps his earliest memory, then, Barrios associates the creation of art with a kind of vandalism. He discerns beauty in what others consider chaos and destruction. This stays with him in the way he treats his subject matter. In Cliff, for example, Barrios depicts ten silhouetted figures lying by, and swimming in, a rather barren seascape. Above them are two much larger figures, one smiling, the other looking severely distressed. Flanking them on the left is a yellow sun encased within grey brush strokes, imbuing what is usually a symbol of vibrancy with a sense of sterility. We are thus presented with a plethora of emotional and aesthetic contradictions. While the ocean is desolate and dirty, it is populated by families enjoying themselves. While one of the larger figures stares blissfully at the sun, his/her counterpart stares away from it, seemingly tormented and despairing. Beauty and pain coexist in the El Salvador that Barrios remembers. To him, the Civil War reminds him of good times spent with his family, just as the good times remind him of the Civil War. They are thus interchangeable motifs for one another. Nothing, it would seem, is simply black and white, and it is perhaps to reinforce this point that he has revitalised his palette in this new body of work.