Bob Barker

Born: Pudsey, West Yorkshire (1954)
Lives and works: Bradford
Exhibitions: Leeds City Museum (2017)
“Artists focus on the magical light of St Ives and the romanticism of Paris. I want to show that the light of northern England is as enrapturing and beautiful as any other place in the world.”

Inspired by the Yorkshire mill towns that shaped his youth, Bob is known for his ‘Northern Impressionism’ style. Depicting touching childhood, family and romantic scenes, his nostalgic artworks feature a neutral palette of greys and browns with splashes of vibrant colour and a unique inner glow created by the manipulation of light and shadow. 

Inspiration

Bob’s loyal collectors are touched by the genuine feeling of nostalgia that each of his artworks evokes. His childhood memories – including riding scooters with his friends and walking home from school to the mill where his mother worked as a weaver – influence his industrial scenes, which feature themes of work, love and friendship. 

Elements of his work can be likened to those of some of Britain’s most important artists. His factories and smoking chimneys echo L.S. Lowry’s industrial landscapes, while his street scenes and figurative tableaus may resonate with fans of Harold Riley. Similarly to the Polish-British painter Josef Herman, Bob focuses on the working-class, celebrating the bonds that can be created through shared experiences.

His main inspiration is the light he believes is unique to the north of England. Where others see soot-blackened brick and polluted skies, Bob sees light and colour; capturing a warm glow in the moonlight, windows and streetlamps. He explains: “When I paint, it’s almost as if this northern light pours from my brush onto the canvas. It transforms everything it touches, from the cobbled streets to the terraced houses, mills and back alleyways.”

To create his atmospheric scenes, Bob uses traditional techniques, including sfumato. Often seen in Renaissance paintings, this involves softening the transition between colours so they appear to evaporate like smoke. Artistic influences also include the Victorian landscape painter John Atkinson Grimshaw, the Dutch Golden Age painter Rembrandt, the German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer, and the English Romantic painter J.M.W. Turner.

In recent years, Bob has experimented with different styles and mediums, including personalisable prints, sculptures and circular compositions. He has also begun to incorporate more colour through details such as raincoats, balloons and his signature motif of two red hearts. Exhibited at institutions like Leeds City Museum, his heartwarming artworks have raised money for charities such as the Jo Cox Foundation and One In A Million, establishing him as one of Britain’s best-loved artists.

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Inside the world of Bob Barker

Bob has always lived in Yorkshire, and continues to draw inspiration from his surroundings. He explains: "Where I live, it is impossible to walk a dozen yards from home without seeing old weavers’ cottages, cotton and woollen mills, Yorkshire stone flags or cobbled streets that have been there for decades, watching the landscape change around them. Every day I get to see and paint this history, and people get to share it with me through my paintings. How wonderful is that?"

The idea for Bob's signature heart motif developed after he began doodling umbrellas and noticed a heart shape taking form. Following this, he asked his son and daughter-in-law to pose for him. While the concept started as an experiment, it now represents a feeling of togetherness, with Bob adding: "Life takes us to unexpected places, but it is love that brings you home."

The glaze of his original oil paintings is inspired by the Old Masters of the Renaissance period. Techniques include grisaille: a method used by artists such as the Early Netherlandish painter Jan van Eyck, whereby neutral tones or shades of grey create the illusion of sculpture. He has also mastered sfumato, which softens the transition between colours so that they appear to evaporate like smoke. By using repoussoir, he paints objects in the near foreground to lead the viewer's eye into the painting and enhance the depth, light and perspective of the piece. 

Describing his painting process, Bob says: "Before I squeeze the first drop of oil onto my palette, I sit and gaze at the blank canvas, sometimes for quite a while. With music always playing in the background, I visualise the composition, change the colour of the sky, nudge buildings into new locations, make it rain and many more combinations until I am happy. I then make a few very quick lines on the canvas, just to set the scene, because by now I am impatient to get some paint on the canvas.

"When the initial painting is dry, I usually rework it by applying glazes (thin washes of oil paint that allow the colour of the underpainting to show through), either to the whole canvas or to individual areas, thus creating intense contrasts for luminosity and depth."

If you like reading about our artists' studios, don't miss our regular Studio Sessions feature in Fine Art Collector magazine. Catch up on previous issues here

From the blog

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Our contemporary releases include sculptures from father-and-daughter duo Steve and Roxy Winterburn, plus limited edition prints by the 'granddaddy of western Pop Art', Billy Schenck. Plus watch our exclusive video with Stuart McAlpine Miller.

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Showcasing the very best of our artworks, along with behind-the-scenes updates and interviews, the new issue of our Fine Art Collector magazine is a must-read!

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