Álvaro Barrios

Categories: Writings on Álvaro Barrios

By Graciela Kartoffel. From Art Nexus magazine #72 march – may 2009


2007. Acrílico sobre lienzo. 117 cm. de diámetro.

No quiero saber nada de arte (I don’t Want to Hear Anything about Art). 2007. Acrylic on canvas. 117 cm in diameter


A first overview of the exhibition by Álvaro Barrios would suggest that the viewer has been introduced to several film screenings projected simultaneously, as well as to visions of gigantic comic books. The skins of the acrylic paintings on canvas are flat surfaces free of any textural accidents. Colors are varied, intense, and even the gray tones are luminous. The balloons in which Barrios paints his texts act as iconic anchors and are subtly naïve. Formally, these areas for the words are nearly always shaped like balloons, but also rectangular or in the shape of zigzagging outlines, like lightning bolts acting as painterly commas that frame and visually and conceptually hold each work in place. The written text and its insertion into the work enhance the perception of sound evoked by each of Álvaro Barrios paintings. These are Pop-influenced works that portray familiar characters from the sociocultural scene of the Twentieth century, be it Dolores del Río, Superman, or Cowboys and Indians.


This reference in the exhibit requires framing of another order. Barrios is a highly intellectual Colombian artist who has been drawing since his childhood, with profound conceptual reflection, as he resorts to personal experimental approaches to the elements he works with. But that makes it sound simplistic, summarized, and less meaningful than it actually is. We will analyze these constitutive parts. Barrios represents several idols, or mentions them in his writings, although above all, he manifests his irrevocable reverence for Marcel Duchamp and therefore, the readymade. His interest is evident in the critical reflections that inhabit his works. Barrios demystifies the elements, he does not merely utilize idols that are alien to him. Instead, he restructures certain figures from other latitudes and filters them through a Colombian perspective. Thus, he is not about merely inserting foreign characters into the Latin-American context, he is also about understanding them through the local lens.


The effort invested in conceiving and carrying out the paintings confers another singular tension to the surfaces and to each scene: these appear different from, and, at the same time similar, to a comic strip, a Pop painting. These double-edged situations allow for one of the predominate aspects in the artistic endeavour of this artist: the vast, precise, and varied forms of communicating ideas. The era of the image and of communication finds in Alvaro Barrios a talented provocative creator. He does not appropriate images as such, but instead renders them sublime. From an early age, he knew how to develop an original vision within the new expressive channels. A paradigmatic example can be found in a series of drawings he published in a newspaper in 1974. It jump-started a cycle that continues to the present: to publish one of his prints or drawings and then sign the published copies for the public, rendering such copies as originals. This generates a well-defined cycle of ephemeral works. It represents a true attempt to bring his work to a wide audience who otherwise would have no means to be exposed to his work. Barrios calls out to the masses who have a copy of the newspaper, or magazine, to bring these to him so he can sign them. This facet of his art, referred as Popular Prints, are actions representing the idea of an art for everyone. It is different from the work at the Taller de la Gráfica Popular (TGP, its Spanish acronym) in Mexico, an institution founded under the strict guidance of artists with a socially conscious agenda.


With works that contain degrees of the iconic legibility belonging to his time, Barrios anonymously and invisibly blends in with these idols. In the proximity of the work being painted, Álvaro caresses and demystifies these idols. Through certain processes that would later be implemented in conceptual art, Barrios does not allude to classic pictorial tradition, but instead relies on graphic media processes, such as offset printing. In other words, he prefers to approach his art without guidelines and tools from the visual arts. Without taking anything away from that preference, his aesthetic is also deconstructive in his use and disassembling of the history of art. Playfulness prevails. The so-called high culture and popular urban culture (to a certain extent ill-defined as low culture, because it is a by-product of intellectual popular urban life), intermittently lose and gain relevance in his work. For a long time, Barrios has expressed an interest in philosophy, metaphysics, and spiritualism. We can deduce that such influences may nourish Barrios thinking, although we do not see these directly reflected in his work. The essence of his aesthetics filters these and other elements that could temp this artist. Álvaro Barrios keeps the gallery filled with sharp characters as he uses critical humor sought to ensure that what occurs before the spectator is not overwhelming.