Inside the mind of Eton dreamscape artist Soozy Barker
PUBLISHED: 14:22 03 September 2020 | UPDATED: 14:22 03 September 2020
© Sophie Balchin
The contemporary painter has produced commissions for celebrities, the Crown Estate and high street retailer Next
Abstract, layered, textured and intriguing... Soozy Barker’s art plays with your imagination and evokes strong feelings of nostalgia. “My pieces are dreamscapes with a hint of something recognisable, a fond memory or calming thought,” she says. Looking at one of her paintings, Island Shores, I am transported to a balmy beach with whispering waves. It’s absolutely stunning.
“I have always been creative, but it was my father’s influence from a young age that inspired me to paint. You could say that art is in my blood. We opened The Barker Gallery in Eton 21 years ago, but my career really took off around 2015, when my work was published by The Art Group,” says Soozy.
“My biggest inspiration is nature. I have wonderful memories as a child being raised in Winkfield, always playing outside. We had a very large pond that we skated on in the winter and my frozen landscapes always take me back to those times. I would sit beneath the weeping willow tree in our garden, as it danced in the wind, and watched curiously as the shapes reflected on the water. I’m still fascinated by reflections and incorporate the imagery in my pieces. To me, nature is art. It’s one giant abstract canvas.”
Soozy and her family now live in a 17th century shop-front townhouse in Eton, complete with a secret walled garden. “It’s a tranquil oasis in the heart of the High Street, surrounded by flowers and shrubs thanks to my other half, Ben, who is quite the horticulturalist. Our summer house serves as my art studio and my art gallery is in the shop at the front of our home,” she says.
The stunning architecture, views and parks in Berkshire all inspire Soozy’s work. “The beautiful wild meadows in Eton are an inspiration and the views of the college are majestic,” she says. “It feels as if you are transported back in time. Windsor Great Park is so enchanting, especially in autumn when the trees are russet tones. Early mornings at the Copper Horse Statue, looking down towards Windsor Castle, watching mist rising and the deer roam across the dewy grass, is like something from a fairytale.”
Working with oil paints, gold and silver leaf, metallic acrylics, spray and textured paints, Soozy spends a long time creating the desired effect. “My process requires hours of blending, pouring, flicking and splashing, often using numerous brushes and palate knives,” she says. “I also have some secret tools, which are unique to my style.”
Soozy loves the work from Romantic Impressionists, such as William Turner and Constable, who she says “affectionately captured land and seascapes perfectly” to the abstract expressionists, Mark Rothko’s “mesmerising work with colour” and Jackson Pollock’s action painting. “To me, his style is the epitome of freedom,” she says. “Creating abstract work and composing a balance is much harder than it looks. A cohesion amongst the madness; structure within the chaos of colour!”
Internationally and domestically, Soozy has built up a vast array of clients. “I work intimately with property developers and interior designers, such as Berridges, complementing colours with fabrics and designs. And I continue working directly with retailers, such as Next, who often commission specific pieces and prints for their stores and online.
The variety of my client base is delightful, from celebrities, such as Anna Friel, Frank Gardener and Nick Robinson, to corporations, such as Starbucks, British Credit Trust, Tower Leasing and European Land.
“One of my largest pieces was in beautiful blues and coppers. It was a 3m x 2m commission for the Crown Estate office in Regents Park.
“I created a beautiful earth and gold painting for a home in the United Arab Emirates. The client asked for the canvas to look like the bark of a tree with gold running throughout.
“I also have a wonderful client in Park Street in Windsor, who has multiple pieces in his stunning period home. We mixed modern art with antiques and the result was fantastic.”
A recent commission for a Berkshire home involved three 120 x 150cm paintings for a stunning stairwell – all in variations of taupes, greys and silver. Soozy adds: “It is a joy to experience the loyalty of repeated purchases from private collectors, such as a client in Henley who has accumulated 25 of my paintings since the beginning of my career.”
Her originals are always available at The Barker Gallery, 100 High Street, Eton, and Soozy is delighted to have recently re-opened the gallery.
“We are very excited about this and we will be featuring some very affordable art together with work by a number of quite prestigious artists with whom we have long-standing relationships,” she says. “Visitors to the gallery are welcome to arrange a private viewing or do contact me to check our latest opening hours.”
Soozy’s own work is also available in print format via Wayfair, Homesense and in Next stores, and online via Pyramid International and The Art Group. “And I am always happy to undertake commissions for my clients, particularly those who would like paintings that key in closely with their interior styling themes,” she says. “I would say that this is my speciality!” Soozy’s paintings can also be rented through Art In Offices.
“My aim is to represent up and coming artists and fresh talent as well as increasing footfall within my gallery,” she says. “I’d like to continue my presence in the art fair community whilst working closely with publishers, and having a wider selection of prints in retail is also very important to me.”
So how has Soozy and her family found the past few months and lockdown? “As a family we have grown closer and have spent glorious time in the garden with our eight-month-old daughter, Octavia. I’ve been using the opportunity to paint and practise new techniques, whilst enjoying this precious time with our baby,” she says. “I’d like to teach Octavia to paint. She already shows joy immersed in nature, giggling and kicking her legs with extcitement when she sees pretty flowers and animals, so I hope she enjoys expressing herself through art like I do.”