The White, The Black, The Kestrel
Delicate Machines and Aluminum Dreams
The mechanical nature of a motorcycle often lends itself to sharp connections; the masculinity of the machine, the frisson of human impermanence. Artist Ian Barry is naturally drawn to these abstractions.
For his first solo show, currently on view at the Michael Kohn Gallery, ‘The White, the Black, the Kestrel,’ Barry’s framed works (one being, ‘The White’) contrast a functional motorcycle sculpture balancing on a cone that extrudes from the ground. Drawing inspiration from decades of history and racing culture, the artist condenses his inspirations into these three conceptually saturated machines. With this new body of work Barry shifts the paradigm of motorcycle ideology in its acknowledgment of our innate desire to control and categorize, and challenges us to rethink our perspective on seemingly utilitarian subjects.
Flaunt: How did you transition from showing The Falcon Series at Concours d’Élégance in 2011, to being exhibited at one of the most important galleries on the West Coast?
Ian Barry: I have an obsessive relationship to motorcycles but as the Falcon Series progressed, conceptual parameters I’d embarked on in 2008 were outmoded by the progression. The first in the series, The Bullet, was a custom motorcycle, a Triumph Thunderbird with rare parts from unrelated vehicles and aspects I’d made from scratch.
By the time the third in the series was completed years later, ‘custom motorcycle’ couldn’t
be used as an accurate description. I started with the engine of an existing Vincent motorcycle, but beyond this and the tires, I imagined and created every other aspect of The Black, and its functioning parts were the surface of larger realities.
From your perspective, should custom motorcycles be viewed as art?
I really appreciated being included in the Concours and shows that I attended but found that the characterization and perceptions projected on my work in that frame of reference don’t necessarily connect with my personal ethos. I’m sure that my work may challenge certain psychological boundaries within the art world, if for no other reason than it containing functional objects and two wheels or it being an obvious target within the age-old art vs. craft argument. From a personal perspective it’s satisfying to have my work seen in an environment that allows for nuanced perception and contemplation.
The White balances high off the ground on the tip of an aluminum cone. Is there a point to a motorcycle if it doesn’t function?
It’s personal. What makes something one thing and not another or both? For me, the reality of a motorcycle is more complicated than its functionality — realities that include psychological function, emotional triggers evoked by visceral experience or the promise of – all kinds of layers to explore. If the engine functions, the tires float off the ground, and The White balances on the point of a spire, perhaps the function is to suggest tension, danger, flight, the nature of temporary control or trigger a sensation of everything being able to alter in an instant. I’m not saying that that any of those points are necessarily its “function”, but I have felt all of these things while riding a motorcycle.
The exhibition features framed works using materials that are also associated with function, rather than art, what interests you about this theme?
I’m not really sure what to say… Romanticizing the allure of machines and industrial materials isn’t interesting to me at all. For all kinds of personal reasons, I am excited by the idea of looking at the total volume of oil removed from its volatile and extreme environment inside a motor, and asking people to re-examine it between a serene macroscopic glass slide. I like exploring beyond material.
Where do you derive your inspiration? Are there people, past or present that have influenced your work?
Many people and things push me to see potential more expansively than my previous boundaries have allowed. I used to look to the past as a grounding practice in the hope that it can bring me fresh understanding of the present, or future. When I’m deep in the woods, Francis Bacon comes to mind as a sort of talisman: “If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties.” I still have doubts that there are certainties in the first place — I’m inspired by people who seem to be content without them; people who are able to communicate beyond our normal range and experience.
What is next for you, does this exhibition represent the direction that you are going in with your work?
Exploring the shape of the wind is a direction that I am very happy with, and seeing where it will take me.