A relatively recent graduate of Goldsmiths’ Fine Art MFA, with an expertise in materials stemming from 16 years of engineering experience, Simeon Barclay’s work evokes friction, or as he refers to it, “the rub”, that hinders a smooth and effortless engagement with culture. In They Don’t Like It Up ‘Em, Barclay’s 2016 solo exhibition curated by Morgan Quaintance at Cubitt, London a collection of new works develop the artist’s engagement with the rub. Whereby semiotically loaded imagery is used in conjunction with seductive materials and surfaces to form the ‘constructs’ that have become exemplary of Barclay’s work, neither entirely sculpture nor picture, but utilising both languages. Describing his experience of undertaking an art degree after having worked as an engineer from school-age, Barclay admits that sculpture came somewhat naturally as did an interest in minimalism and the attendant industrial processes, followed by a frustration with the limitations of this mode in conveying subjective feeling and personal experience.
According to Barclay’s own account there have been a series of cultural awakenings followed by dissatisfactions that have fed into his artistic practice up to this point, and whilst it is not always useful to look to an artist’s formative years in discussing their work as an adult, in this case it is necessary. Barclay often refers to the extreme masculinity of the environment that he worked in previously, pointing to an encounter with the film of Alan Sillitoe’s ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’ long after the fact augmenting an affiliation with the so-called ‘angry young men’ of 1950’s literature. The alienation of a 9 to 5 routine remains an important concern, particularly regarding the way that cultural expression is driven to ferocity when it is confined to the scant evening hours and weekends. It was during his recent MFA that Barclay felt able to bring his previous experience to bear on his art practice, having realised whilst studying for a Postgraduate Diploma that using his knowledge of materials and understanding of the art historical canon to produce beautiful, well-realised objects would not constitute a satisfactory practice going forward.
On top of his most recent show at Cubitt, Barclay’s output includes solo exhibitions at Dam Projects, London, Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun in Leeds, and an outdoor commission for the Grundy Gallery’s handrails in Blackpool. Furthermore, having previously shown in New York as part of A British Art Show, Barclay is currently part of Liverpool Biennial’s inaugural ‘associate artist’ programme, which aims to support northern English artists in pursuing international careers. In working as an artist, the kind of intense engagement with sartorial and sonic subcultures that characterised Barclay’s youth is no longer a necessity in order to ‘feel human’, and yet the artworld engenders its own frictions for those who cannot, or will not proceed smoothly from the periphery to the centre. During a discussion on the origins of his interest in surface and presentation, Barclay recalled discovering Vogue magazine aged 10 or 11, and being struck by the opulent images and scents, which are at once seductive and repulsive when you are still surrounded, as he put it, by the smog.