Artist of the Month: Jon Barraclough

Meet the new Artist of the Month, master collaborator and Renaissance Man, Jon Barraclough…

It’s mid-afternoon and we’re sat in a beautiful – ornate but lived in – study. The feeling of being here is akin to swallowing the little book of calm, a feeling only encouraged by the improvisational jazz of pianist Keith Jarrett washing over us. We gaze at the book-cases, which are chock-full; Charles Bukowski’s Come On In! lies open on the desk and is surrounded by works in progress and old photographs.

We’re in the home of Liverpool-based artist Jon Barraclough (he has a studio at The Royal Standard), co-publisher of the Drawing Paper and our new Artist of the Month. Originally from Bradford, he’s had a long and distinguished career, and despite staying in his home city to study fine art, wasted little time in becoming well-travelled. Initially though, he made the short journey to Newcastle to undertake a BA in Graphics, motivated by the reputation of one of their staff Terry Dowling: “a great unsung hero of the graphic arts world,” says Barraclough.

The decision would prove life-changing. “I signed on for graphics [but] decided to be on the fringe of it … I did animation, photography, printmaking, typography typesetting.” He explains that “like gathering up nuts for the winter, I was picking up skills all the way, as opposed to languishing in the studio. I wanted that training”. It was this skill-set, photography in particular, which prepared him for a much bigger move, and the decision to seek out Dowling proved inspired.

“I begged and borrowed the money and got a flight out there”

“He [Dowling] was really well connected; he had a contact in New York. Anyway, we got on and he thought I’d be able to handle going over there. I begged and borrowed the money and got a flight out there on the [airline entrepreneur] Freddie Laker airbus for £90.” Unfortunately, not long into his stay, tragedy struck. “My mum died whilst I was there – after about 6 weeks or a couple of months, I had to rush back.”

However, that wasn’t the end of Barraclough’s new world adventure, perhaps humbly underestimating the impact he’d had on his new colleagues: “the people I’d met raised the money to send me a flight back – I was really touched by that. It gave me the chance to go straight back and carry on.” Working on graphics campaigns for the likes of The Village Voice, he was making a living and gaining great experience, doing his already growing reputation no harm along the way.

Soon after (in the early ’80s) London was calling. He found himself working in the film industry, “doing prep and graphics for films like [Bernardo Bertolucci’s] The Last Emperor and Nicolas Roeg film, Insignificance”. During this time, says Barraclough, “I was doing a lot of fanzines [including] Blast – a post punk rant trying to capture what was happening culturally; [they were] gestures toward what is now Drawing Paper”.

We’ll come back to Drawing Paper, but something that seems abundantly clear about Jon Barraclough is that he thrives on the spirit of collaboration, an idea he pre-empts when he tells us he “had a lovely collaborative studio in Shoreditch. In the early ‘80s, it was like what North Liverpool is now – totally pre-gentrification. It reminded me a lot of the Tribeca area of New York”.

“It’s not just governed by me. It’s a really honest way to operate”

We ask him why it is such an enduring feature of his career. “Collaboration has [produced] my most enjoyable work and experiences – that feels good.” Explaining that he “… tries to draw collaborations or conversations, ideally in the same space at the same time”, and likes to work in this way because “it’s not just governed by me. It’s a really honest way to operate. It’s a discourse, a dialogue, and kind of illustrates the fact I really like conversation and people, and what makes us tick … To have an illustration of a moment of a relationship is really good.”

Which brings us nicely back round to Drawing Paper, the project he co-founded and co-publishes with graphic designer and DJ, Mike Carney (they met when Barraclough was running visual comms consultancy, Nonconform). The not-for-profit publication ‘concerned solely with drawing’, showcases the work of (invited) artists and is designed, curated and published by the pair in Liverpool. Partly a result of Barraclough’s “[love] of the published, the multiple – something that can physically reach people in ways other than via the digital channels, which have their own special magic and horrors”, last year it was nominated for the Liverpool Art Prize. Since then, it has developed a life of its own, leading to Drawing Sessions, the second of which took place during last year’s Biennial.

“Since then, Drawing Paper has developed a life of its own, leading to Drawing Sessions”

Growing out of that ongoing fascination for collaboration, Barraclough is quick to point out that it’s “not just a collaboration between visual artists, but other media too. It’s like jazz improv, but on paper, and the musicians are there too. It’s got a particular place in my heart – I’ve always been interested in making what I can see into sound or what I can hear into pictures. That’s why we’ve had the sessions and it probably wouldn’t have happened without The Royal Standard … I enjoyed it hugely.”

Having been to the inaugural Drawing Sessions, and covered the second, we can both vouch for, and share in Barraclough’s enthusiasm in a project which, now up to issue number six, has quickly gained a huge amount of respect since its inception in 2010. Serendipitously, this week sees the latest (slightly more informal) session against the back-drop of experimental electro musician NHK’Koyxen’s gig taking place at Blade Factory in Camp and Furnace.

“Fantastically detailed, imposing in size and yet incredibly sensitive to the subject matter”

Amid all of the adulation for DP, it’s perhaps easy to overlook for a moment Barraclough’s work as a hugely talented fine artist. Then one remembers the beautiful, John James Audobon inspired Spectacle of the Lost group exhibition at the Victoria Gallery & Museum last year. Some of the real stars of the exhibition were pieces by Barraclough; fantastically detailed, imposing in size and yet incredibly sensitive to the subject matter, the birds were informed by Audubon without being slaves to his style.

It is that eye for detail and Barraclough’s sensitivity to subject matter that brings us to his piece wonderfully adorning The Double Negative home page. From a series called The lives of plants, Before us and After us, is “a bone that was found on the Yorkshire moors –taken from the carcass of a sheep that was probably frozen to death in a snowdrift.” As Barraclough points out (and has beautifully and intricately rendered), “the spring moss is already growing on the bleached surface”.

It is a pleasure to see, and for an artist so giving of his time and abilities to the act of collaboration, one can’t help but hope that, just occasionally, he would be a little more selfish with his time if these are the results.

See more of Jon Barraclough’s work here 

See Drawing Sessions at NHK’Koyxen’s gig tomorrow at Blade Factory in Camp and Furnace, Tues 16th April, 6-11pm!

Posted on 15/04/2013 by thedoublenegative