​​​Duncan Barker


What do I do?

In short, I paint. I spread paint - usually acrylic paint or oil paint - on a flat surface - usually a canvas. I consult photographs and my own memories - to some extent. I carry on until I'm satisfied. Sometimes this takes only a few hours. Sometimes it takes days or weeks.

But how do I know when I'm satisfied?

To begin with, it's not about words. It's about the part of our mind that we share with the animal world - the part that distills the messages of the senses without the meanings and categories that language imposes. Or, at least, that's what it tries to be and do. A painting worth a thousand words is a bad painting. A good painting should be indescribable except by an infinity of words.

It can be about imitation - representational art, that is - but why produce an exact copy of something that exists already? It can be about the artist's imagination too - like the art of the Surrealists - but if your interest is psychological, you're maybe better off interpreting your dreams by using words. The direct, wordless, emotional connection of colours, shapes, lines and textures is what gives power to abstract art. The sort of painting I do - which hangs somewhere between realism, surrealism and the abstract - attempts to produce something of a similar power, but supplementing the tools of abstract art using images and illusions from the world and from the imagination.

My approach to painting, which is strongly influenced by the Post-Impressionists, Fauves and Modernists, involves combining all these elements - colour, line, shape, texture, dream and reality - into a balance which satisfies me and, I hope, communicates at a wordless level with you.

It's not about slickness and it's certainly not about photorealism. As I come to the end of a piece, I'll put aside any photographs and often reach for a bigger brush. But even then the process has its own precision - I've had to make alterations to paintings because just adding my signature has thrown the balance out. 

It's a question, ultimately, of animating the canvas - of bringing a dead surface to life - whether through the suggestion of space or atmosphere or movement or by giving the painting its own living presence as a charismatic object in itself. From its beginnings in the caves, painting has been about producing a sort of magic.

In this respect, painting is an antidote to words - to the literal and to the mundane - as well as a connection to a different, perhaps more deeply-seated, reality. This is the case for me, and I hope it's the same for people who enjoy my work and especially for those who live with it in their homes.

Duncan Barker 2017 


Siret No: 80049091400010 

30330 La Bastide d'Engras 

Contact Duncan Barker

Who am I?

I've always painted and I've always looked very closely at art and at the world. I grew up in Nottingham, England, in a home redolent of oil paint and turpentine, going with my parents on sketching-days and to meetings of the local art society. I drew constantly, painted, and sculpted in clay - and determinedly kept up my academic Art to the end of my school career.  

But, like a lot of people, I found myself divided between the world of words and the world of pictures - and it was the world of words (as is usual) that won! My other love was for the history, literature and art of the Classical world - a love which took me as a student to Cambridge. I was lucky to study with Professor Mary Beard, thanks to whose encouragement I won a scholarship to study Art History, including some Fine Art, at the University of Chicago, before returning to complete a PhD on the symbolism of gold in Roman culture.

taught for twenty years in higher and then secondary education, at the Universities of Bristol and Nottingham and at Sherborne School and Lancing College. I painted when I could, taught Classical art when I could, and accompanied art tours when I could. I also read a great deal about art and artists, with a particular emphasis on Post-Impressionism and Modernism - two connected movements which I sensed to be vitally important, but whose lessons I hadn't yet fully absorbed. By this time, I had begun to produce my paintings in the style of Roman mosaics.

In 2013, my wife and I decided to leave school-teaching and move to a house near Uzès in the South of France. Now Annie produces beautiful fabric art and blogs about it here, while I use words to coach local people in English and pictures to express something of the vibrant light and life of this remarkable region. 

A Question of Words and Pictures - Who am I and what do I do?