The 39-year-old artist swapped New York for London, where he transposes his history, community and experiences into grand, loving canvases
By Osman Can Yerebakan
Alvaro Barrington worked at a streetwear store called OMG in New York’s Soho in the early 2000s. When Prada opened its much-hyped Epicenter boutique right across the street, he immediately bought a pair of its America’s Cup sneakers. Wearing the kicks to church that Sunday – rather than the typical Clarks dress shoes – all eyes were on Barrington. “I was one of the few kids who was commuting from Brooklyn to Manhattan for school, so I would always observe the fashion and culture happening around the city,” the artist says.
All these years on and we’re sitting around the corner from his old boutique job in a corner booth at Balthazar. Fittingly, Barrington is wearing a Prada leather bag today. But much has changed for him over the last two decades: the 39-year-old has moved to London (it “tried me hard at first” and he was ready to leave, “but now I cannot run away from it – I will be here for a while”) and seen himself reach extraordinary new heights, storming the global art scene with his absorbing paintings.
“Unlike the circles I hung out with here, my friends in London are almost all from the art crowd,” he says now. This was the direct outcome of his decision to move to the city in 2015 to get a graduate degree at the Slade School of Fine Art. He and his classmates would spend all their days obsessively discussing paintings, to the point where, “if I were around people who didn’t participate, I would just walk out of the conversation and not feel guilty about it.”
This single-mindedness paid off. Fresh from the Slade, Barrington’s first solo exhibition was not at a small gallery off the beaten path, but at the Museum of Modern Art’s Queens outpost MoMA PS1, in 2017. The installation, which included colour-bursting phallic paintings, postcards and Post-It notes, was a re-staging of his London studio inside the New York institution. According to art historian and curator Norman Rosenthal, who brought the MoMA PS1 show to Thaddaeus Ropac gallery’s London space, “every generation creates its own artistic icons, and Alvaro might be the next one.”
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