London-born artist Barry Sykes has just completed his residency at the Plymouth Arts Centre resulting in his first major solo exhibition, Recreate a Nervy Pistol? (An Early Retrospective). The show presents Sykes’ many talents from the past 10 years including sculpture, photography, collected objects and video pieces documenting his residency in Plymouth.
Sykes spent one week a month since June 2010 in Plymouth creating and developing work for this, his first solo retrospective. Throughout his residency, like in previous work, Sykes collaborates or bases his work around people. This recurring theme is seen in pieces such as Dad Directives, 2008 (with Kevin Sykes), and Blindfolded Sculpting, 2006 with artist Sean Parfitt.
I went along to the opening of the show, which at first glance combines a selection of strange objects mixed with video work and a Community Support Officer’s uniform. However, on closer inspection, with a glass of wine in one hand and the exhibition guide in the other, each work reveals a story that documents a different stage of Sykes’ development.
Sykes wanted to present the pieces alone with minimal explanation, as a test to see if they could stand up by themselves and be understood by a new audience. This proved to be a good way to encourage the viewer to stand in front of the piece for longer and discuss its possibilities.
Much of Sykes work, I found out the following week at an exhibition tour with Barry himself, is not what it appears. Relaunch Announcement Sculpture, 2009, at first glance seems to be pieces of reclaimed metal, but is in fact carefully painted pine and bamboo, with authentic rust spots.
I had a chat with Barry at the opening, and was surprised to find him more than happy to talk about his work and how the exhibition had come together, even admitting to ‘rabbiting on about it’. Sykes had already given 10 talks even before the exhibition had opened, including one to primary school pupils, clearly showing how accessible his work is and suitable for many ages. I also bumped into his father (Kevin Sykes, featured in The Dad Directives) who opened his wallet and went to offer me a £20 when I mentioned the review!
The exhibition is mainly comprised of objects, some of which have been borrowed like Mirror From Somewhere Else, No.1 (Smaller Hall) 2011, which had been taken from Sykes’ parent’s hallway, he explained had now left a hole in the space it came from, but created more space when displayed in the front gallery of the Arts Centre.
Other pieces, however, have only ever existed on the streets of Plymouth during his residency. One video shows the confusion on a tattoo artist’s face when Sykes explains he just wants a dot on his arm. Professional Nice Guy, 2010, is another film created in various locations around Plymouth, following numerous YouTube videos documenting people’s behaviour to a Free Hugs sign.
Magic Wands, 2000, the oldest piece in the show, and created by Sykes on his MA course in Chelsea, is a wonderfully simple piece consisting of thick twigs painted black with white tips. Many quirky objects like these in the exhibition I noted made many people smile at the opening, so it was a shame when Sykes explained that in the 10 years, they had never been exhibited. One wand is on loan from Plymouth Arts Centre Curator, Paula Orrell, to whom Sykes had given her in the early 2000s, which first sparked her interest in his work.
Sykes described the titles of the pieces simply as ‘clues to the work’ rather than titles. With this in mind the whole exhibition has a quirky sense of a game to it. Sykes even created Barry’s Family Funtime Quiz to get the visitors more involved and to look closer at the works.
The exhibition has a very fresh feel to it, and presents new and sometimes initially challenging pieces for those not used to contemporary art. From what started out as a confusion of jumbled objects, has now fallen together to reveal many fascinating stories about a young artist, on what must be the road to his success.
• Recreate a Nervy Pistol? (An Early Retrospective) is at Plymout Arts Centre
(image: from the top: Barry Sykes, Impersonating a Part Time Police Community Support Officer, 2007-2010. Performance work enacted at Tate Modern, London; and Barry Sykes, Untitled (Questioning Adults, detail), 2007.)