Syd Barrett's inner visions

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Pink Floyd's founder turned his back on music and lived as a recluse. These paintings, seen here for the first time, give an insight into his troubled mind

In the world of rock music you don't get a greater icon than Syd Barrett, the founder member of Pink Floyd. After his time in the band that changed the face of rock in the Sixties and having succumbed to LSD, Barrett turned his back on psychedelic music and returned to his hometown, Cambridge, to live out his days as a recluse and to paint. Now for the first time we can see the results.

More than 30 of his artworks that until now have never been viewed will be exhibited in Cambridge, as part of The City Wakes, a series of events in tribute to him. Few of the original paintings Barrett created during the last 25 years of his life remain due to his tendency to spend weeks on a project and then photograph the piece before burning it. Among the large, colourful abstract canvases that will be shown at the exhibition are the photographs he took of the pieces he destroyed as well as rare memorabilia, including love letters, photographs of the young Barrett and song lyrics. The exhibition has been curated by Stephen Pyle, his close friend and contemporary at Homerton College and later at the Cambridge School of Art, as well as Barrett's family.

Barrett had been a keen artist as a child. In an interview, his younger sister Rosemary Breen said of her brother: "I suppose people first realised there was something a bit special about him when they saw his paintings as a child. He would do pencil drawings that were just exceptional and he had what it took to draw what he saw."

When Barrett moved to London he gained a scholarship to the prestigious Camberwell College of Arts, but he stopped painting while singing, writing music and playing guitar in Pink Floyd. When Barrett moved back to Cambridge in 1981 not only did he revert to his childhood roots as a painter, but he spurned the name that associated him with his role in Pink Floyd and reclaimed his birth name Roger.

According to Rosemary Breen, Barrett "always considered himself an artist not a musician. For him music always went alongside art and if anything he was probably moved off a more obvious path by music. Music was a fun thing but art was where his real love was. The music came to the fore because of Pink Floyd but without that he would have carried on the art and I think would have had a much more fulfilling life."

Barrett would only ever paint for himself, rejecting requests for commissions. In an auction which followed his death in July 2006, aged 60, his artworks, which included nine original paintings, raised £121,000 for art training in Cambridge.



The City Wakes, Cambridge (www.thecitywakes.org.uk), 22 October to 1 November

'GENTLE SOBRIETY': THE CRITIC'S VIEW

The sad story of Syd Barrett's decline has been re-told and sensationalised beyond measure. And yet behind the self-destructiveness there was an interesting and talented painter always striving to emerge from behind all that inner chaos, and not one who was merely self-taught either – as so many rock stars have been. Think of Ronnie. Think of Paul. And in certain respects, the later paintings of Syd Barrett show a man who is not so much resigned to destroying his life as systematically trying to re-build it. Painting, after all, had been his first love. Born in Cambridge, he went to Cambridge Art School, and then to Camberwell College of Art in London.

But it is the paintings of his later years which demand most attention. Syd could be wild with paint when he was a young man – his violent abstractions seem to mimic the wildness of his behaviour on and off the stage – but later on, his paintings began to attend to the facts of the world, and even to the hold that his local Fenland landscape had upon him. He even did a painstaking watercolour portrait of a tortoise, gently ambling, as tortoises are wont to do. The unpretentious titles of some of these paintings testify to their gentle sobriety too: 'Field and Flowers', 'Big Green Landscape', 'Flowers'.

Although they nod from time to time in the direction of abstraction, and have remnants of wild mark-making, they are, beneath all the stylistic flurry – and that's what it feels to be – unadorned transcriptions of things seen and valued. 'Flowers', for example, approaches the delicacy and fragility of touch of a painting by David Jones, for example. 'Field And Flowers' looks like a landscape of East Anglia – the cluster of flowers in the foreground, painted with a kind of raggedly spontaneous ease; the long rake of a field in the middle ground, topped by a high sky. Only in the turbulent smears of 'Blue and Red Landscape', with those furiously squiggly smudgings, do we feel the world closing in on Barrett. For the most part, these paintings feel like an area of his life in which he was managing to re-find himself, a kind of rest from all the torment – and the hard-won triumphs – of the psychedelic years. The paintings even feel a touch serenely paradisal, as if somewhere just beyond his mother's semi in Cambridge, Syd could half-glimpse the long vanished world of Samuel Palmer.

By Michael Glover

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
books
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'