Claire Barrow’s work has always traversed both fashion and art, but it’s the latter that is taking up most of her time these days. Known for her subversive approach to design and her signature illustrative aesthetic, the London-based creative announced in May 2016 that she would be quitting the restrictive fashion week cycle in favour of focussing on a broader range of projects.
For her first major exhibition, she follows in the footsteps of Jeremy Scott and Vivienne Westwood by teaming up with Melissa – the ethical Brazilian footwear brand – to create an immersive, future-fuelled installation at the brand’s gallery in London. With a range of collaborators that include artists, activists, dancers and actors, Barrow has employed an equally diverse range of craft and technology-led materials to create a multi-sensory artwork that’s both moving and eerie. It also channels her view that art and fashion need to stop rehashing the past and look to right now for inspiration.
For an artist as fearless as Barrow has been with her career decisions, she’s great company: smart, self-deprecating, with an offbeat sense of humour. She’s reluctant to say what exactly she’ll do next, but an imminent move to Los Angeles to take a painting sabbatical further cements her move into the art world proper.
Liam Hess: With this exhibition, you’ve used a cross-section of earthy materials and cutting-edge technology – materials you’d never be able to use in the fashion world. Clay, ceramics, projectors…
Claire Barrow: I like to take from everything, but my goal is just to create something that hasn’t happened yet, and not in the sense that it’s futuristic and looks alien or robotic. We’ve had so much nostalgia now, fashion journalists are always describing things in terms of 60s, 80s. We have to look towards the future, and try to improve things.
“My goal is just to create something that hasn’t happened yet, and not in the sense that it’s futuristic and looks alien or robotic. We’ve had so much nostalgia… We have to look towards the future.”
Liam: Your sculpture pieces in the show are unsettling in their ambiguity, it’s as if you’re invited to project personalities onto them. Do you relate to them?
Claire: I feel like I know the people within the sculptures now – I mean, obviously… I made them [laughs]. But I know what they’d say and do. Although there’s one guy that I don’t understand. I just don’t know what he’s about, I don’t connect with his face. I was trying to read him so many times, and then eventually just settled with him. I thought, “Maybe it’s alright to dislike him slightly.”
Liam: There’s a lot of discussion about virtual reality, and the possibility of living as an avatar online. How do you feel about that kind of technology? Do you find it scary or exciting?
Claire: I think Facebook is actually kind of similar. You end up becoming an avatar of yourself, shaping this identity you want to be perceived as, craving likes and all that. I’ve also been thinking about how much I hate my online presence on Google, there’s some really bad modelling pictures of me from when I was younger, and articles where I sound like an idiot, pictures I’m totally unhappy with. So I don’t want to Google myself because it makes me genuinely upset and anxious that I can’t control it, and I’ll never be able to. I don’t see myself as that person, but then I think, “Oh I must be, because that’s what comes up on Google.”
Liam: There seems to be a shift in how young designers are navigating the fashion industry now. I read recently about a designer who doesn’t put clothes into production, but instead uses catwalk shows as a business card for styling and consulting. Having been amongst all that as a designer and now moving to focus more wholly on your work as an artist, what is your plan or model moving forward?
Claire: I don’t necessarily have a model – I’m hoping to just keep working as an artist. I’m sure people will tell me that being an artist is just as hard as what I was doing before: you need to get a gallery, support, an agent of some sort. I just don’t feel like I’m at that stage yet. I’m lucky enough to have people already coming to me directly, and I feel like the industry has a good understanding of me, which is nice – that I’m doing this on my own terms.
‘Dancing With Dreams’ by Claire Barrow runs until 15th March at Galeria Melissa, 43 King Street Covent Garden