by Tom Barker, Kit Barker’s son
Kit Barker, Llanmadoc, Gower, 1965, oil on canvas
Kit Barker (1916 – 1988) always said that he “lay in wait” for a painting. He would - I can only describe it as stalking - go about his everyday business in the studio, brushing the floor, drinking a mug of tea, reading a thriller, tinkering with a broken lamp. He was waiting for the right moment, that critical time when the images and memories that rotated and flowed through his head, congealed and clarified into that first critical mark on the canvas.
Kit did, actually, start with that classic barrier to creativity - a blank canvas. I know many artists will avoid this at all costs. At art school I recall being advised to lay out a large piece of canvas from the roll on the floor of my workspace, leave it there for a few days to soak up spilt paint and coffee, pick up the detritus from passing shoes and generally become a truly abstract arrangement of stains upon which - the theory went - it was less intimidating to make one’s own first mark.
But this was not Kit’s way. His was a virgin canvas upon which he would mark out the horizon with a clear pencil line. At this point of his career, the horizon was such an important, even dominant, element of his work, its placement relative to the proportions of the painting governed the pictorial space. High, and the foreground began to dominate, low, and a big sky would develop. Mainly however, as with ‘Llanmadoc, Gower’ (1965), the horizon floated a little below the centre of the painting and became the line upon which Kit would work the oil paint into the complex pattern of field, wall, shore line or scrub using brush, pallet knife and finger.
Kit loved Wales. As I grew up I became used to him disappearing for a few days, perhaps twice a year, to travel around Wales, usually with his great friend the great poet Leslie Norris, a Welshman who lived mostly at that time near Chichester. It was mainly the open-mouthed estuaries that drew Kit; he loved the extended horizons of low tide, the flickering illusions of land meeting sea and, of course, the intensity of light that this geography brings. It is no surprise that a trip to London often included a look at Late Turner, a painter and visionary of whom he never tired.
Kit brought home many sketchbooks, filled with line drawings - mostly in fine black pen - of great sandy and damp beaches, fishing boats, lobster pots and harbours. These were his reference material, which although he never painted directly from, acted as memory joggers, helping him back to those landscapes, smells and sounds as he stalked his Sussex studio, a Jacques Loussier tape playing, coffee cooling until barely tepid, waiting to pounce with confidence at the easel.
Late evening Kit would usually return to his studio, a last look before bed. I suppose he was assessing the day’s work, giving his inner eye a last reminder of progress, so that tomorrow he could again find himself back at the tideline in South Wales.