Artist Hedwig Barry makes beauty from 'trash' in debut solo exhibition

At Nirox Sculpture Park, Barry's giant sculptures made from sheets of crumpled metal speak to cultivating love and gratitude for objects we want to throw away

23 January 2022 - 00:00
By Andrea Nagel
‘Untitled’, from Hedwig Barry’s 'Crumple' series.
Image: Alexi Portokallis ‘Untitled’, from Hedwig Barry’s 'Crumple' series.

Hedwig Barry started her master’s degree in fine art at Wits in 2019, the year she turned 50. Two years later and her paintings, drawings and huge scrap-metal sculptures are showing in galleries, locally and abroad, and her work has been commissioned by large corporates such as BMW.

Though Barry taught at the National School of the Arts for two years, her passion is to create it, so she decided to pursue her ambition to be a full-time artist. And she is being noticed. In a big way.

Though Barry has created artwork throughout her life, she was never a fastidiously realistic drawer or painter. After graduating cum laude, she gave herself permission to give free rein to her natural messiness and exuberance, which became part of the uniqueness of her work. “I put fear aside,” she says. “I was able to do it because I’d asked the children in the class to do it.”

Artist Hedwig Barry, whose paintings, drawings and massive scrap-metal sculptures are showing in galleries, locally and abroad.
Image: Alexi Portokallis Artist Hedwig Barry, whose paintings, drawings and massive scrap-metal sculptures are showing in galleries, locally and abroad.

In an interview in the online zine, Klyntji, with Bibi Slippers, Barry says she began to think about the notion of ​​gratitude and, of course, what holds hands with gratitude is love and loss. “I also started working with the idea that ​​my work was never going to be perfect, so I said, ‘f**k that s**t’.”

Her Crumple series is made up of large scrap sculptures that look like balls of paper thrown in the waste paper basket by a frustrated writer. She told Slippers they were born out of the idea of ​​recovery and of love and gratitude for objects we want to throw away. “It’s the beginning of something new. To see value, even if there is error.”

“What helped me a lot was that I was a freelancer for so long, so I can live with a lot of uncertainty. When Covid struck, I thought, ‘OK world, welcome to my reality.’

Barry works on one of her large-scale paintings.
Image: Alexi Portokallis Barry works on one of her large-scale paintings.

“The uncertainty, not knowing what’s going to happen next, not knowing where money is going to come from. That’s my day-to-day reality. And what does one learn from it? Greater agility. Resilience. Not that I believe we should be blerriewell resilient all the time. I’m just saying. Despite that, I lived a creative life. It’s one of the most liberating things, to do what you really want to do. It’s a cliché, but it’s amazing to be able to get there.”

Barry has been invited to do an artist’s residency at the NIROX Sculpture Park. She’s been there since December 15 and will complete her stay there in mid-February. FORMS Gallery and the NIROX Foundation has launched her first solo exhibition, Here Is Where We Meet. It runs until March 13 and brings together a collection of new sculptures and paintings completed during her seven-week residency.

The exhibition centres on her Crumple sculptures — large-scale three-dimensional works made from huge sheets of crumpled metal, welded together to create complex forms treated with automotive paints, which softens our experience of the material.

These works were initially inspired by so-called “crumple zones” in cars — areas designed to crumple in the instance of an accident, absorbing the force of impact and protecting the bodies inside the vehicle. The works symbolise the relationship between destruction and preservation, force and form.

“The surfaces that interest me provide opportunities for forms of looking that are persistent and patient, and therefore resilient,” she says.

Alongside the Crumple sculptures, Barry presents paintings on canvas which continue her exploration of automotive paints and painting techniques used on the Crumples’ surfaces.

“I see exuberance, enchantment and resilience as concepts that are unified through the act of making work, and the act of experiencing it as a viewer. Through creating complex surfaces, I investigate the way that we — artists and viewers — practise different kinds of resilience, self-care and space-holding for ourselves and others.”  

• See 'Here Is Where We Meet' at Nirox Sculpture Park until March 13.