For Marke Newton’s new exhibition of paintings, the British artist has created a fictitious rock/pop band called ‘The Sweet Barbarians’. Each work is a portrait of one of Newton’s fictitious band members: friends or acquaintances are portrayed as famous icons gracing covers of album covers. Newton’s concept aims to capture the hype, craze and imagery that often accompany the launch of a new band, though in the case of ‘The Sweet Barbarians’, the music does not exist. The paintings pay homage to album covers and concert posters reminiscent of 1980’s music graphics and 1960’s psychedelic imagery. Fame and iconic status of the band members are denoted through portraits evocative of religious iconography and though no music is heard, imaginary sound and energy can be detected as it resonates through the palette of colors and metallic finishes.
The new series references the role that rock and popular music played in his formative years in Manchester. The northern city was the breeding ground for The Smiths, New Order, The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays, and the dance scene supported by the Factory Records label exploded in the late 1980s. Becoming a rock star was the cliché dream of young Mancunians, which Newton alludes to with ‘The Sweet Barbarians’. “Being a rock star, being in a band, was a childhood fantasy for Northern kids and the only way out of a dead-end part of unemployed Britain,” he explains. Surrounded by the powerful music scene, as a young artist Newton was inspired by album covers, posters by Peter Saville and the artwork of Factory Records. He would draw variations of existing album covers, and would-be album covers for fictitious bands that existed only in his imagination. His new series draws on these early influences: Manchester’s youth and music culture, and his personal love of album cover artwork. While the Manchester music scene served as Newton’s departure point the title of ‘The Sweet Barbarians’ is inspired by Jom Tob Azulay’s documentary film ‘Os Doces Bárbaros’ (1977), on the legendary Brazilian group from the 1970s Tropicalia movement.
© Speerstra Gallery