The Inventive Artwork of Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett

We’ve had fun at the expense of the mul­ti-hyphen­ate: i.e. “I’m an actor-slash-drum­mer-slash-make­up-artist-slash-brand-ambas­sador,” etc…. And, fair enough. Few peo­ple are good enough at their one job to rea­son­ably excel at two or three, right? But then again, we live in the kind of hyper­spe­cial­ized world Hen­ry Ford could only dream of, and con­sid­er our­selves high­ly favored if we’re allowed to be just the one thing long enough to retire and do noth­ing.

What if we could have mul­ti­ple iden­ti­ties with­out being thought of as unse­ri­ous, eccen­tric, or men­tal­ly ill?

Dis­cus­sions of Syd Bar­rett, Pink Floyd’s found­ing singer and gui­tarist, nev­er pass with­out ref­er­ence to his men­tal ill­ness and abrupt dis­ap­pear­ance from the stage. But they also rarely engage with Bar­rett as an artist post-Pink Floyd: name­ly, his two under­rat­ed solo albums; and his out­put as a painter, the medi­um in which he began his career and to which he returned for the last thir­ty years of his life.

If Bar­rett were allowed a role oth­er than crazy dia­mond (a role, we must allow, assigned to him by his for­mer band­mates), we might see more of his work in gallery col­lec­tions and exhi­bi­tions. One can­not say this about every famous musi­cian who paints. For Bar­rett, art was not a hob­by, and it called to him before music. It was in his stu­dent days at Cam­bridgeshire Col­lege of Arts and Tech­nol­o­gy that he met David Gilmour. From Cam­bridge he moved to Cam­ber­well Col­lege of Arts in Lon­don and began to pro­duce and exhib­it mature stu­dent work (see here).

Bar­ret­t’s work “shows some of the advan­tages of an art school train­ing,” wrote a review­er of a 1964 exhi­bi­tion. “He is already show­ing him­self a sen­si­tive han­dler of oil paint who wise­ly lim­its his palette to gain rich­ness and den­si­ty.” (Bar­rett had dis­played a prodi­gious ear­ly tal­ent for achiev­ing these qual­i­ties in water­col­or — see, for exam­ple, an impres­sive, impres­sion­is­tic still-life of orange dahlias, auc­tioned off in 2021, made when the artist was only 15.)

His train­ing gave him the con­fi­dence to break away from for­mal exer­cis­es dur­ing this peri­od and exper­i­ment with dif­fer­ent styles and sub­jects, from the dis­turb­ing, prim­i­tivist Lions to the hol­low-eyed, Munch-like Por­trait of a Girl. Bar­ret­t’s first stu­dent peri­od end­ed in the mid-six­ties, as Pink Floyd began to take off and Bar­rett “turned into a song­writer” (then-man­ag­er Andrew King lat­er wrote) “it seemed like overnight.”

After his spell with Pink Floyd and brief solo record­ing career came to an end, Bar­rett moved back to Cam­bridge with his moth­er in 1978, dropped the nick­name “Syd” and began paint­ing again as Roger Bar­rett, avoid­ing any men­tion of life in music. From that year until he died, he worked in sev­er­al styles and dif­fer­ent media, paint­ing strik­ing abstrac­tions and land­scapes and even mak­ing his own fur­ni­ture designs.

While he burned many can­vas­es, many from this time sur­vive. See a select­ed chronol­o­gy of his work in the video above and in the pho­tos here. Try to put aside the sto­ry of Syd Bar­rett the trag­ic Pink Floyd front­man, and let the work of Roger Bar­rett the artist inspire you.

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Syd Barrett’s “Effer­vesc­ing Ele­phant” Comes to Life in a New Retro-Style Ani­ma­tion

Under­stand­ing Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, Their Trib­ute to Depart­ed Band­mate Syd Bar­rett

Watch David Gilmour Play the Songs of Syd Bar­rett, with the Help of David Bowie & Richard Wright

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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