“I felt like there must be something more to life, growing up in a town in Huddersfield. This struggle against small minds in small towns that told you that you wouldn’t amount to anything provides the perfect stimulus to reimagine yourself. You had to or you just didn’t exist.”
Artist Simeon Barclay recalls how between the pages of Vogue his younger self discovered glamour, theatricality and a sense of aspiration that starkly contrasted with the everyday reality he was used to in West Yorkshire. The experience marked the start of an ongoing fascination with the magazine, which eventually led to a much wider set of interests around how people construct and perform identity and define themselves within society. “Life can be like a theatre” he’s said, “and we’re trying to negotiate where we stand in that overall.”
Today, these concerns lie at the heart of his practice, which operates at the intersection of contemporary art, fashion, music and popular culture (often referenced through footballers, actresses, adverts and television programmes that figured in his childhood). Yet the 16 years he spent working in a factory before the start of his art career have also played an equally important role; informing the glossy aesthetic and industrial fabricating techniques that help make his work so distinct.
Since his manufacturing days (he claims to have been “too much of a dreamer” to have stayed on the factory floor any longer), Barclay has attracted a fair amount of art world attention. After graduating from Chelsea (2011) then Goldsmiths (2014), the past few years have included a solo exhibition at Tate Britain in 2017 in addition to a number of other national and international shows, as well as being named a Liverpool Biennial Associate Artist in 2016. Life Room at The Holden Gallery marks his first solo presentation in Manchester, for which he has made new work in response to the North West Film Archive and, in particular, a 1929 film about Manchester Art School titled A Visit to an Art School. The exhibition will also include a survey of the artist’s earlier work.
Throughout his practice, Barclay encourages the breaking of rigid societal boundaries and challenges expectations of identity, gender, race, class and heritage. Life Room should mark an exciting next stage in his rapidly developing career.