Roderic Westwood Barrett was born in Colchester in Essex on the 8th of January 1920, the younger brother of the acclaimed sculptor Oliver O’Connor Barrett. Unlike his brother, who was mostly self-taught, Barrett began his artistic studies at the Central School of Art and Design in 1936 to 1940. There he learnt the craft of wood engraving under the renowned teacher and engraver John Farleigh, as well as being taught by Bernard Meninsky and William Roberts. After seven years as a practicing artist Barrett returned to the school to teach as a part-time instructor until 1968. His teaching career continued, successfully, being invited to instruct at the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, America, during 1957 and 1958. The artist went on to another part-time teaching post at the Royal Academy Schools, where Barrett tutored for nearly three decades between 1968 and 1996. During this time teaching in London Barrett also contributed to the Arts of his hometown, holding the presidency of the Colchester Arts Society between 1982 until his death in 2000.
As an artist born and brought up in Essex one would imagine that Barrett would conform to the landscape painting history for which the region’s artists are predominately known. Yet Barrett’s work not only disregards this tradition but also refuses to conform to the ideals of the world of Modern Art. His focus as an artist was much like his teaching career; it involved ‘consistency, hard work and mental and emotional honesty.’ Seemingly Barrett felt that to shock and be original was less important than being oneself, guided not only by inspiration but also by perspiration and effort. Thus during long periods of time Barrett would alter and change a painting sometimes for decades until he felt they were complete and could be released.
We can see from this painting, Round Table and Three Chairs, that Barrett was interested in the formal aspects of composition and perspective. By overlapping in the foreground the two dominating chairs and by slightly overlaying the table and third chair in the background the artist creates an almost abstract scene. Yet there are clear and definable themes emerging from this scene which at once dispute this abstract notion, the most striking one being the fragility of humanity. An empty chair and a cleared, unused table at once suggest a somber even morbid state of affairs. The background in which Barrett purposefully places these objects increases their sense of isolation from us, from our world and a world of harmony. Barrett uses an almost barren swathe of coloured hues, a military green, as a background to his painting, further intensifying the heaviness of the objects which inhabit the space. The background creates a world within the painting thus separating the abstract from the figurative.
Roderic Barrett: A Retrospective 1996, (Firstsite Publications, 1996)
Buckman, David, Dictionary of Artists in Britain since 1945, (Bristol, Art Dictionaries Ltd., 1998)
Royal Academy Exhibitions 1905-1907: A dictionary of artists and their work in the Summer Exhibitions of the Royal Academy of Arts, Volume 1, A-CAR, (Great Britain, EP Publishing Ltd., 1973)
Waters, Grant M., Dictionary of British Artists Working 1900-1950, (Eastbourne Fine Art Publications, 1975)