Hayley Barker Takes Us Back to the "Laguna Castle"
"I relish tending my garden of roses, succulents, and natives," Hayley Barker said in her Spring 2023 Quarterly interview with Juxtapoz. "It’s modest, and I am pretty much a novice, but I find great pleasure and endless inspiration from getting my hands in the dirt. I love bringing some incense and music into the garden and leaving the phone inside. I treat it like a ritual. I feel so blessed to have a yard."
Night Gallery is pleased to announce Laguna Castle, an exhibition of new paintings by Hayley Barker. The artist’s debut solo show with the gallery follows her participation in the 2022 group exhibition Shrubs.
Just above Echo Park Lake in Los Angeles is Laguna Avenue, sloping and lined with modernist stucco apartments characteristic to a slowly dissipating image of the city. It is on this narrow avenue that Isa-Kae Meksin made her home for nearly sixty years, in a close-knit apartment complex called Laguna Castle. Here, Isa developed a strong sense of civic responsibility and cultivated her building’s garden and residential community with equal care. After her death in 2022, Isa’s longtime friend Martin Cox began a temporary artist residency program out of her vacant apartment to honor her legacy, under the name Latitude for Art. Hayley Barker was invited to be the inaugural artist of this special program, spending a string of days in the fertile tranquility of Laguna Castle.
Titled for this experience, Barker’s Laguna Castle is a homage to place, a study of time through objects and nonhuman life forms. The artist—who often looks to humble daily scenes rather than the sublime magnitudes that are the traditional subjects of landscape painting—was originally interested in depicting Laguna Castle’s expansive garden. But Barker soon began to see Isa herself as a kind of muse as she lingered in the apartment full of talismans, photographs, and books; material evidence of putting down one’s roots. The exhibition unites large-scale compositions of Laguna Castle with portrayals of other places that connect to larger themes of mortality, longing, fragility, and resilience: an old cactus on the side of the road, three trees merging together, and Barker’s parents’ home in Oregon.
The artist’s paintings arise from a process of close observation, meditating upon and continuously photographing her surroundings. For Barker, working exclusively from her own photographs is a way to avoid mimeticism, instead using delicately applied layers of oil paint to build colors that are as ethereal and complex as her subjects. This spare yet considered technique opens up space for an unexpected grandeur to take focus: in Isa's Necklaces, a collection of jewelry is draped over a clothing hanger on a bedroom doorknob. The beads and pendants take on an altar-like quality in the intimate stillness, rendered in a muted palette that allows for realism to give way to the transcendent.
The specificity of Barker’s work lies in her reverence for the local and belief in the spiritual depth of the everyday. As a body of work and a beloved home, Laguna Castle is proof that one doesn’t need to venture into the backcountry to find vast ecosystems or metaphysical structures of connection. We are all stewards of life.