The Independent Collector

JOHN WINDSOR'S GUIDE TO COLLECTING MODERN ART: BARRY MICKLEBURGH
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The Independent Culture
FOR UP to six hours at a time, Barry Mickleburgh lies on an army sleeping-bag in fields, among crows, rooks and magpies. They look at him, and he looks at them, sketching them in pencil. The result is a series of oil paintings, Corvidae, (Latin for the crow family), showing episodes from their everyday lives.

He has watched crows, his favourites, give each other gifts of titbits in a polite manner befitting their black formal dress. They have a sense of decorum that is rather British. In his painting Signpost, shown here, a fourth crow is landing on a wonky signpost, much to the consternation of the three who got there first. The newcomer looks away nonchalantly, pretending he has a right to be there. Two of the others, disgruntled, glare at him. The fourth does not want to get involved; he prepares to take off before the signpost collapses.

Mickleburgh, who lives in a 16th-century farmhouse in Norfolk, is aged 46, but began painting only five years ago. His meticulously detailed, velvety-textured paintings fetch between pounds 850 and pounds 4,000. He has more commissions from America than he can cope with, and is being shown next month at Gallery 27, Cork Street, West London, and until 16 September in a Christie's exhibition - organised by the Arts Dyslexia Trust.

For most of his life, Mickleburgh did not know he was dyslexic. He worked as a carpenter until he was injured in a motorbike accident 11 years ago. Still in plaster, he enrolled on a GCSE course at Norwich City College. It was there that his difficulty in taking notes from the blackboard led to his being diagnosed dyslexic. Before that, he thought of himself as being not very intelligent, or even backward. But he went on to do a degree course in fine art at Norwich School of Art, where, in his final year, he started painting.

Dyslexics learn in a way that is different from that of people who get information from the printed word. Mickleburgh says: "If you've never read a book, you have to formulate your own thoughts and opinions from what goes on around you. Dyslexics often appear odd because they have individually formed ideas. Also, as we have to deceive in order to hide our disability, we tend to be less sociable.

"Perhaps that's why I can't tell if someone is being pleasant or unpleasant to me. To try to find out, I read people's eyes. So I have an advantage when I look at the expressions of creatures - especially ones I can make eye contact with."

That is the link between his dyslexia and his painting. If you look into the eyes of Mickleburgh's crows you can get a glimpse of the extraordinary sensitivity that can develop in people from beyond the Gutenberg Galaxy.

"Sometimes," says Mickleburgh, "I feel like a throwback to the time when we were hunters and gatherers. If I were an aborigine, I think I'd do rather well. To be honest, I like being dyslexic."

The Arts Dyslexia Trust exhibition of art by dyslexic people is at Christie's, Ryder Street, London SW1, until 16 September. Christies (0171- 839 9060). Arts Dyslexia Trust (01303-813221). Fifteen paintings by Mickleburgh will be shown at Gallery 27, 27 Cork Street, London W1, 5-10 October (0181-675 8110)

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