Chiswick House Artist To Be Immortalised By British Library

Barry Martin will be featured in the Artists' Lives Archive


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The artist-in-residence at Chiswick House, Barry Martin, has been chosen to have his life story recorded for the British Library’s Artists’ Lives archive.

Based at his studio in the South Lodge, Chiswick House, which he restored over a period of years in the late 1980s, he joins an illustrious group to be featured, including Chiswick artist Sir Peter Blake.

Barry Martin outside Chiswick House

The news that his artistic, and personal life, would shortly be included in the Archive was, he says, “a huge honour” though he has to prepare himself for at least 46 hours of recorded interviews. The first session will start in January, although, he joked, at sixty-nine he was loathe to plan so far ahead.

“I better wrap myself up in cotton wool to make sure nothing happens to me until then."

Describing himself as “artist, painter, sculptor”, his work has been exhibited in several public galleries in the UK, including the V & A and the Tate, as well as galleries in France and Spain, and numerous corporate and private collections.

But throughout his personal and artistic life, Chiswick remains a constant inspiration.

Barry Martin lived in Chiswick with his family for fourteen years, and although he has now moved to Twickenham, he commutes to his studio on a regular basis.

“We had a lovely life in Chiswick. But when my daughter Jessie, was about three, we knew we needed a bigger house and we moved to be nearer to my wife Sarah’s mother who lived in Twickenham”.

He recalls happy times in W4, where his many friends included actors Timothy Dalton, Richard Briers, John Alderton and Pauline Collins.

Working in the surroundings of Chiswick House- a quiet haven from the busy traffic- provides him with mental space to create. However, he says the physical space of the studio, a cream-coloured building that abuts the House wall on the A316, is rapidly becoming cramped by his large works. Though never officially designed as the " artist in residence", the title appears to have stuck.

His current work-in-progress includes two kinetic (moving) sculptures, a series of wall relief works using metal, canvas, oil and acrylic, and a triptych “with a spiritual feeling” which he started in 1996 and is currently completing.

Movement is a constant theme in his works which he represents in both two-dimensional and three-dimensional projects. He is also deeply interested in the representation of "time”, using performance installation, moving sculptures, film and video. The movement and meaning in games (notably chess) and signs and symbols in general, also provide inspiration.

One of his proudest achievements is the restoration of the South Lodge which was designed by Decimus Burton, the 19th century classicist, whose work also features in the Botanic Gardens Kew (the Palm House), and the Gentleman's Club, The Athenaeum, in Pall Mall.

The Lodge had lain derelict for several years in the grounds of Chiswick House having been vacated in the early 1980s by a groundsman and his family. Barry spotted a notice put up by Hounslow Council and knew he wanted to investigate further.

"There were 25 foot high lime and ash trees growing there. It was all very overgrown but I knew it would make a great studio for me. I was lucky enough to acquire it (on a long lease) and I had wonderful people who drew up plans. The restoration of what is part of Chiswick House and Gardens is really something I am quite proud of," he says.

He was also involved in the discovery of Masonic symbolism, incorporated, but well-hidden, in the House.

“ I’m very interested in signs and symbols and during the restoration of Chiswick House I was looking up at one of the ceilings when I spotted what appeared to be writing but was in fact on closer inspection an ensignia around a ring, a Masonic symbol which was covered over by paint. The conservation team were able to follow up on what I had spotted and indeed the discovery of the Masonic connection has been documented in historical books on Chiswick House".

He later used this connection in a series of works exhibited at the V & A where a number of self-portraits of the artist show him wearing a collar marked with Masonic emblems and signs.

Although he never intended to become an artist, "it was a choice between Maths and Art", he studied at Goldsmiths' College of Art, University of London 1961-66, and St Martin's School of Art 1966-67, both pivotal institutions for young artists during the '60s explosion of creative talent.

As well as painting, sculpting, and teaching , Barry Martin has written about art and lectured at the Tate Gallery to coincide with a number of their major exhibitions, including Jackson Pollock; Piet Mondrian; John Singer Sargent, Hans Hofmann, and the Chess and Art Symposiums 1991, 1993.

His work is also currently included in a touring exhibition of the V & A featuring the Best of British artists of the 1960s.

" It's somewhere in Germany at the moment. I'm on the wall, next to Mary Quant".


Artists’ Lives was initiated in collaboration with the Tate Archive to enable British artists to create a record of their experiences in their own words, not just focussing on their artistic talents, but also their personal life and experiences that have formed them. The series started in 1990 and there are 235 entries to date.

September 8, 2012

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