a tour of Alvaro Barrington’s installation Grace

One of artist Alvaro Barrington’s earliest memories is of sheltering in the “little hut in the country” where he lived with his grandmother in Grenada, while the rain pounded on the tin roof and music played. Now that simple protective roof has inspired a huge minimalist sculpture – hanging sheets of corrugated iron – that stretches the length of Tate Britain’s lofty southern Duveen Gallery.

We meet beneath it, halfway through the installation of Grace, Barrington’s massive new three-part work for the prestigious annual Tate Britain Commission. Soon, he says, there will be a soundscape of rain and original music created by groundbreaking experimental artists including Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes and Femi Adeyemi, founder of quirky London radio station NTS.

It is the first step in a journey through what Barrington calls “his internal landscape,” as shaped by Frederica, Samantha, and Emelda, his grandmother, sister figure, and mother, respectively. “I wanted to discover what I do [as an artist] in relation to their labor,” he says. “My mother became pregnant at the age of 17 and my grandmother took me in without judgment. My mother lived abroad and when she returned, my grandmother found ways to show her that she was loved. She covered the chairs with plastic so that the house never changed. It was her saying: ‘No matter what happens, you have a home.’”

Barrington joined his mother in New York at the age of eight and lived there until he came to London at the age of thirty to study at the Slade School of Fine Art. Since graduating in 2017, his development has been rapid by any standards. Although he describes himself as a painter, he is known for his extensive projects that escape the traditional boundaries of the medium.

History is immigration and innovation: how do we find a country and then consider it our home?

Alvaro Barrington

The first canvases you encounter at Tate Britain are his signature thread paintings, where thread is stitched across the canvas to create scratchy explosions of color. “They come from the women in my family who sew and crochet,” he says. “It’s how they dealt with art: making paintings by putting substances together.”

In stark contrast to this evocation of domestic space, Duveen’s central rotunda explores the occupation of women on a very public stage. As we talk, an aluminum sculpture of a dancer in ‘beautiful mas’, the feathers and bikini costumes inspired by the Brazilian carnival, is lowered into place by a forklift. This is based on Samantha, a ‘sister’ the artist has known for three decades, who dances at the Notting Hill Carnival. “There was a lot of talk at the art academy about public space [being dominated by] men,” he recalls. “Coming from the Caribbean, that didn’t make sense to me. Millions of people attend Carnival and it is common knowledge that if a woman dances alone, that is her space.”

A beacon of bodily freedom and kinship, the statue towers between the security of the artist’s early childhood and his adolescent experiences in 1990s New York, fueling the sobering reflections in the north gallery. Here, Barrington looks back to the time when Rudy Giuliani oversaw a police force infamous for its brutal persecution of the black community. He recalls how a “high five” between kids on the street could lead to accusations of gang membership and mass arrests. But he explores the way this affected his mother and other parents.

While the artist celebrates feeling at home in the other spaces, here he explores how people cope when this is brutally denied. The centerpiece is a corner shopping kiosk, built to the dimensions of an American prison cell. In a continuous cycle of promise and refutation, the shutters open and close.

A beautiful stained glass work glowing in the arch above is based on a yarn painting and looks back on his grandmother’s textile work and the domestic security she created. It is striking how Barrington channels the idea of ​​home – a patchwork of family, community and care – as a point of quasi-spiritual inspiration. “It brings my mother back to my grandmother, through the delivery I do in relation to hers,” he says. “She is the matriarch who holds everything together.”

It fits in with the rest of Barrington’s work, which explores art and his own formative journey as a complex web of connections between self, community and culture. “My story about myself is that of a working-class immigrant,” he says. “It has given me the opportunity to be an artist in different ways. The history of the world is immigration and [its accompanying] innovation: how do we find a country and then consider it our home? It means that as a painter I can look at the entire global history of art.”

Alvaro Barrington: Grace is at Tate Britain, London January 26.

Grace under pressure: four things to pay attention to during installation

This store-cum-prison cell (above) focuses on the neighborhood as a place of community, but also of danger. Barrington cites the murder of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins, who was shot in the back of the head by an LA corner store owner over a misunderstanding over a bottle of juice, as a particularly grim wake-up call for his mother’s generation.

True to the cooperative spirit of Carnival, this statue (above), based on the likeness of Samantha, the artist’s sister figure, is adorned with jewelry, a ribboned costume and nail art. The sculpture is partly inspired by Botticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus, although its broad, commanding pose is a far cry from the restrained object of desire of the Renaissance era.

In the central rotunda, the enormous statue of a carnival dancer is surrounded by paintings of revelers (above). Barrington has strung these on scaffolding through which visitors have to swing like a street party. The artist’s interest in shared experiences runs deep. His mother died when he was ten. “When my mother died, some of her friends took me in,” he says. “A collective community raised me. That way of thinking is ingrained in me.”

Barrington approached the workshop responsible for the windows in the Gaudí-designed Sagrada Familia cathedral to create the installation’s stunning stained glass works (above), including this one where primary-hued geometries inform both quilt-making and spiritual compositions by Mondrian suggest.

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