New artist: Introducing Colin Barnes

Enter Gallery are excited to announce the release of two prints by Colin Barnes - a London-based artist, known for visually-fun works inspired by the graphic forms of comic books and graffiti.

Colin Barnes Artist

Visible Invisible I and Visible Invisible II encapsulate moments of childhood naivety experienced while watching cartoons, namely Tom and Jerry.

In omitting the face of his subjects in the same way the cartoons once did, Barnes urges us to consider the nuanced micro-aggressions that have permeated black representation in popular culture. In today's article, we introduce you to Barnes and provide some background on the inspirations behind his art. 

Colin Barnes Visible Invisible

The pursuit of an artistic life

Colin Barnes is a man that art has diligently pursued throughout his life. You read that has pursued him.

During his childhood it took Barnes a while to understand that not everyone can draw as well as he can. The possibility of a career in art wasn't something that was on his radar. The opaque and difficult-to-access world of the creative industries isn’t decipherable by everyone. To many, it seems the only way in is via a foot in the door.

The only thing stopping Barnes from becoming an artist 20 years ago is time (and the fact he might’ve had too much fun DJing in the 90s!) Spending time creatively experimenting and learning is an expensive privilege. Earning a scholarship to Camberwell College of Art allowed him that privilege, and he didn’t take it lightly. Still having to work a job, sometimes missing out on studio time to keep everything paid, Barnes’ rise to self-assuredness was paved sincerely with hard graft.

But now, speaking about his work, Barnes remarks:

'I’m meant to be doing this. When I was 40, I was 50% sure. Now I’m 50, I’m 100% sure.'


Visible Invisible II

Sparking conversation

The beauty of Visible Invisible I and II is that they evoke us to ask ‘why?’, and the innocence of the question is disorientating. Via his artworks, Barnes invites the viewer to participate in the piece by inserting what they think would’ve been within the outline. In doing so, Barnes forces us to confront that there was once a decision not to show the face of the maid in the cartoons, and the mystery that surrounds the vacancy is up for interpretation.

Instead of presenting us with a polished critique of black representation in popular culture, Barnes’ work instead points out the obvious oddness of the omission, and lets us do the rest.

His work demonstrates that he can spark a conversation about racism, and not define his work by it. Instead of delivering a manifesto on how to retrospectively save pop culture from insidious omissions, he prefers to represent the more nuanced micro-aggressions that have largely gone unnoticed.

Shrugging off the pressure for black artists to discuss racism in their art, Barnes wants us to acknowledge the weirdness of it. Whether you get outraged or not, is up to you. There’s power in his balanced perspective, in the withholding of a specific point of view.

 Colin Barnes

Asking questions

Putting form to a question without answering it is difficult to do. Instead of shifting the tone of the piece to a silver bullet, it remains a question. The outline perfectly encapsulates the process of innocently arriving at the conclusion - as we did when we first saw this scene as children - that something is wrong. There’s a lot to say about the characters, how they were the only black characters in the cartoon and happened to be ‘the help’, and were never depicted as having a face.

Colin Barnes original

There’s dehumanisation. Did the makers of Tom and Jerry deliberately disconnect the idea of this character having a face so we were less likely to feel sorry for her? Was it guilt? That they knew the character was inherently racist and didn’t want to own up to it? We become detectives at a crime scene examining the outline of a body and wondering ‘what happened here?’.

Barnes’ work creates conversation without alienation or fear, which is rare. More of this kind of art could shift the tide in how we discuss the things that matter.

View our collection of work by Colin Barnes here.