3 days after her Cornwall show at The New St. Ives School while still amidst all the behind-the-scenes chaos that goes with designing a collection.
Claire Barrow, the Northern English artist based in London hops on a Zoom call to talk about the fourth installment of her Xtreme Sports collection, her Cornwall artist residency, and Bladee’s 333 cover artwork.
How was your show?
It was dreamy. Do you know Cornwall? It’s right down the bottom of the UK’s West Coast. The residency was based in Zennor, and then St. Ives, which is like ancient rocks, coastlines, beaches and fields unspoiled since the bronze age. It's just magical and otherworldly. Where I was staying was next to Aleister Crowley's old cottage where he apparently opened a portal to hell with one of his spells and some aliens came out of it. It's on a ley line so it makes sense! They've been seen around the area by locals.
This was completely in the middle of nowhere. There were no shops nearby. To get to St. Ives from Zennor I walked for an hour and forty minutes, and I don’t drive so I was doing regular countryside walks along these beautiful fields looking out to sea trying to avoid the cows and bulls. There are lots of cows everywhere so you'd have to walk through trying to intimidate them with your arms stretched out to make yourself as wide as possible.
I was in Zennor for two weeks then I moved, by car, into another space in the town of St. Ives, a few doors down from where Virginia Woolf wrote her novel To the Lighthouse and close to Barbara Hepworth's sculpture garden. I was completely alone, apart from check-ins from Rosie Osbourne and her family who run the residency alongside painter Danny Fox.
I created a large work on canvas which was a semi-auto biographical piece entitled ‘The Birth of Another Individual’. I was painting in a barn in Zennor, which was a fitting coincidence since the painting i’d been planning for a few years in my head takes place within a barn. My parents had me baptized in a church ceremony in a barn, surrounded by pigs, sheep and people. Since it was an autobiographical piece the real animals were converted into Ty Beanie Babies animals, more fitting, and other things summarising the last 30 years of my life.
The showing of it a few days ago back within the barn space was really fun, my boyfriend travelled over for it, I dressed up as a halloween skeleton and we had lots of local people come through.
The Birth of Another Individual by Claire Barrow, 2020.
How was it being so far removed from everything during
I love being alone, I still had my phone though, I wasn't able to turn that off. In St. Ives there were bars and galleries and they have the Tate which was all open also, with social distancing in place, because there's some weird covid tier system the government has in place at the moment where Cornwall was really relaxed. It’s a refreshing change from London which has a really strict lockdown.
They had this amazing old beachfront arcade with a sick game called Dark Escape 4D where you shoot at these creatures that have sexy women's bodies but spider legs. They are made in these fucked test lab things with all the spider ladies fetuses in jars that you have to shoot before they wake up and tear you up. And you have 3D glasses on and there’s air blowing at you and the seat vibrates so it is like it's really happening.
I struggle to fully escape into the beautiful violence of nature and its unpredictability. I'm too much of a child of the internet era and technology that I can never fully relax without some kind of artificial stimulant around me in some form. Hence the beanie babies on the canvas instead of real animals.
You created your most current Xtreme Sports collection while living amongst a pandemic, how did that change your process?
It didn’t change the design process too much just the production of it for customers. It’s always challenging to produce collections with lots of stock anyway but with what's been going on recently, factories are super delayed with stuff. I’ve had a lot of help from my assistant, this time due to me being away while all the production is getting done.
I started designing it pre-pandemic in January 2020. My Xtreme sports collections aren't seasonal necessarily, it’s just whenever they are ready to be put out! I was hoping to give people some new stuff sooner since the last one Les Sports Xtreme was May 2019, but I got the designs back in February 2020 and I was like, there needs to be more here. I needed to delve deeper into the subject matter and create something better serving of it. Then Bladee’s 333 cover had to be finished. I started on it mid 2019, working on it for around 10 months...so I focused on that for a couple of months which was when the pandemic was at its worst here. Then that was released in July and I started working on Xtreme Sports; Awakening again delving deep into alien conspiracy subject matter.
What was the original concept behind your Xtreme Sports collection and what interested you to continue it in multiple installments?
The Sports title is a way to express my ideas in a wearable way that also pokes fun at the current streetwear trend that high fashion brands try to emulate. Some of the items aren't really ‘sportswear’ in any sense, like the silk scarves and the glow-in-the-dark alien fetus ring from this collection for example. But then I also have t-shirts and hoodies in each collection which could be called streetwear. I’ve made four installments over the last 3 years now and have really enjoyed it, it feels more lighthearted.
How does your preparation for a collection differ from your preparation for a painting?
Really different sometimes and other times not, it’s really dependent on the project. Like, if i’m doing a collection or painting I like to think about the bigger ‘picture’ first then design the items within it to fit with certain themes or statements I want to make. But then sometimes a drawing I might have done quickly while watching a film one evening gets me inspired to create something around it. I just have to let my left hand and right brain guide me and be totally free; unless I’m really focusing on making something super detailed in which case I’ll sketch it out a few times then transfer it onto canvas.
Bladee’s 333 Artwork by Claire Barrow, 2020.
When working on a painting for 10 months how do you not lose focus?
I loved working for Bladee and wanted to do his new album justice with something quite grand in scale, so it was actually just really fun and easy to want to work on it regularly... but not every single day for 10 months that would be mad!
To focus on work I like setting alarms on a pocket stopwatch. And I put on the same old Levis dungarees every day that I paint in as a uniform, so they help me feel focused.
How did you develop your style and how does that style work into all these different materials?
I have always loved clothing, jewelry, and ‘style’, as a self-expressive art form and document of the human condition, which is why I’d always pursued a career in that industry since I was a teenager. I went to fashion college at 16, then I studied fashion at University and during my gap year out I started painting on leather biker jackets for friends, then stylists, which led to me then creating full clothing collections always incorporating print design. At around 14-15, I used to customize jeans for friends for £5, haha.
When I was doing these full-on collections 2012-2016 with print, embroidery, complicated constructions and silhouettes it was a crazy hectic journey. I was really young, like early 20s, and had people working for me, and loads of stockists, and amazing fashion presentations at the ICA, Tate and Somerset house, but at around 2016 I knew the industry structure wasn't really serving me.
I'm proud of some of the work I've already created within the fashion realm in my 20s but I'm finally coming into my own now after a few years of just living life and also going through some shit. I’m now getting around to fulfilling my true desires, which is to grow my daily practice solely to create art and invest all my time into my ideas! This could be canvas, sculpture, performance, music or wearable art. I like to try it all and not limit my mediums, the idea is the driving factor. There was some hangover from the pressures the fashion industry presents commercially so I'm excited to shake that off and grow my style more.
How do you distract yourself when you aren't designing or creating art? Is it music? If so, what do you listen to, and what else do you find therapeutic?
I like to do vintage exercise videos like Cindy Crawford and Cher, watch horror and action films, and shit TV like Real Housewives of Beverly Hills! We have music playing around the house all day while we work. Then I have a quick go on the playstation in the evenings, it’s a bit of a ritual. I got Crash Bandicoot 4 last night so I was playing that for a while!
I just saw that today. I had no idea they made a new one, those were definitely a favorite growing up.
Yeah, it's okay. It's really similar to the old games still, I would have kinda liked for it to be a bit different. However, now when you die you don't actually have to start the whole level again. You can go on unlimited death mode where it just tallies up your deaths in the top corner. Last night on level 2, I spent 100 plus lives just on one bit where I wanted to get all the boxes. It's crazy how hard it is.
I still have my memory cards from when I was a kid. In the back of my mind I tell myself that I'll beat all the games I didn't as a kid once I get the downtime.
I've done that recently! I just beat 1, 2, and 3 over lockdown. All boxes, all gems, complete with the help of a few youtube walkthroughs. Maybe I've regressed back to childhood after being locked down. I turned 30 recently as well so that probably has something to do with it. I'm doing everything I used to do when I was 8
If someone were to look at your recently watched on YouTube what would they find?
They would hate it haha. Every recommended video that pops up has to do with Ru Paul’s Drag Race commentary or Playstation games walkthroughs so that’s the shit I watch or a State of Trance radio show which I listen to each week without fail. Recently got more into audiobooks and podcasts rather than just youtube’ing all day long.
What were some of the earliest emo records you were into and then when you got into punk and trance what were some of those? What was the transition between each?
I like Alexisonfire, Funeral for a Friend, AFI, they were my favorite. The earlier AFI albums are really good, I think. I was a big Black Flag, Descendents, and Minor Threat fan. They almost converted me to straightedge, but it didn't quite stick.
Today is national straightedge day.
Oh cool, I'll put tiny X's on my hands haha.
When I finally discovered punk I felt embarrassed I was so late to the party and I made it my mission to watch every documentary about Punk, researched it tons and even wrote an essay on ‘Post Hardcore’ in my second year of college. I was excited and obsessed. In my early 20’s I really got into 60s music, which I now look back on as a weird time and am no longer into much anymore but I was just curious to discover anything and everything, I'm not afraid of having bad taste!
I also really like a lot of new artists who I’m always checking out on SoundCloud but at the moment what I've kinda gone back to is liking the stuff I was into as a kid. Looking back at the choices I've made throughout my life, I had it right all along!
I definitely find myself listening to a lot of the stuff I grew up on too like Funeral for a Friend, Minor Threat, or even music like Lady Gaga.
The new album is so good. I really like that song 911 from it.
Yeah, 911 is my favorite off of it for sure. It's almost embarrassing but figuring out your taste now is the taste you've had all along is okay. Growing up you transition from different genres of music and the sub-cultures surrounding them to reflect back and realize it's not that bad even if it is, it's still okay to enjoy it. It doesn't matter.
I don't think non-MySpacers understand that it was kinda not so serious for the people who were really into it as well. It was just like the birth of music downloading online and you didn't have to rip CDs anymore so kids all over the world were getting into emo which led to discovering metal and punk and then creating bands. A lot of the people were from small towns and the only way to access music was through MySpace, it created this whole thing.
I discovered that recently, the whole back catalog of music on MySpace was deleted by accident because of a server error lol. So emo will end up like the biggest subculture time forgot. It's not as heavily documented, the DIY music has been lost, the emo fringe pics were deleted by their owners and wiped from the net.
I think all evidence of that time period in my life is gone.
Same and the photos look quite good from what I remember. I am sad for one in particular, which was me on a self-timer in my bedroom with the floral wallpaper in the back, wearing blonde hair extensions, side-swept hair, my big stretched ears, holding my ‘My Little Pony’. At least it was some sort of self-expression which had been repressed in our childhoods even if un-original.
Yeah, I don't know if stretched ears are as popular now. When you see someone with stretched ears it's definitely like you know something about them.
Let’s remove the stigma around ex-emo’s!
Photography: Claire Barrow
Text: Zane Olson