The human figure features prominently in Barkley’s works and, although they may be viewed as portraits, Barkley’s paintings also allude to myths, legends and to the history of art. The tension between the intimate portrait and the theatrical presentation of stories that present “truths” about the human condition is a principal characteristic of his work. His figures offer the viewer a singular glimpse into a universe in which real people and fictional characters co-exist.
“I create my paintings as narratives. Sometimes the narrative is clear, the action direct, an interpretation can be made easily. In other paintings the story and it’s meaning is not always discernable and the interpretation is left open. I see the people in my paintings as characters within these narratives. A character that begins his story in one painting may find a denouement in a later piece. As a result of my attempts to streamline the narrative, to rid the painting of extraneous elements, the actors often appear nude. Clothes denote social class, profession, period, gender, age, etc. By eliminating them, paring down the mise-en-scene, the interpretation of the narrative is broadened to hopefully include the viewer’s own speculations.”