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Dysfunction – the relationship between creativity and mental health: Gregor Barratt

Why are artists still not attributed with the creative respect they are owed in a multi-billion industry in conversation with Gregor Barratt – a 27 years old man from the French Riviera

Gregor Barratt – artist

At 27 years old, Gregor Barratt himself grew up in the backcountry of the French Riviera where his parents had their popular restaurant feeding a couple hundred people every weekend in Tourrettes-Sur-Loup. As a budding artist, the open roads of the riviera were Barratt’s playground, often riding his motorbike, exploring the close-by mountains and visiting the local metalworker whose studio was situated underneath his parent’s restaurant. Anchored in his roots, his father grew up in London’s East End to a family of carpet fitters whereas his French mother grew up in the South of France — before the two met in Egypt and lived together running businesses under their multi-faceted cultural union. «They’ve worked together their entire lives and have been a well-functioning duo since they’re both creative and passionate».

The subjectivity of art

«Three months prior to producing my degree project», for which he made a seven-meter-high metal spider-like creation — «I’d been working on something different making live and immersive performances from sound, smoke and playing with light. One day I woke up and thought, ‘This is my last year at CSM I want to do something that will challenge my last year’». Gregor started experimenting with a miniature, welding metal into its initial shape incorporating sound elements and maintaining the immersive aspect. Having followed Barratt’s technique throughout the degree, the school initially was apprehensive to his sudden change and challenged his idea which made him want to produce something larger — of seven meters in height and depth. «I ended up in a clash with the school because they said there was no subject, no depth, no research, so I made it personal and did the sculpture» when these colleges are in place to encourage young artists to experiment with things they might not have outside of the confines of the degree. «It made me realize that there was no need to have a point with this project because the point arrived four years later, after I’d created the sculpture and started seeing the concept of monumental work». With something as subjective as art, it’s often challenging to teach when different techniques and methods can be applied and what one might call art can vary to what another might consider to be art, so they essentially judge you on your concepts. In art school a rather linear approach is applied whereby students are asked to come up with a concept and explore all possible theoretical research before producing any physical work. «I wake up and I see a sculpture so I have to make it. I work with intuition», he adds.

Centre energitique

The psychology of art

The life of an artist appears to be going against what people and society often believe in. When Jackson Pollock first began his technique was so against traditional standards of creating artwork that he later spent much of his life through the lens of psycho analysts. «Pollock was so interested in the psychology of art that at the beginning of his career, he perhaps didn’t question himself because he had this burning fire inside of him that needed to be controlled through the process of making things». In a similar way, Barratt will often wake up and feel the need to produce whilst also taking time to understand his process. This constant introspection and ability to question oneself seems to be what makes artists stand out from a crowd of individuals. He explains though, that the fundamental difference that art school seems to delineate is between the artists who create a product to be sold and the artists that need to produce to function within society. 

Making sense of the artwork

After graduating, Barratt spent time in the south of France where he opened up an atelier in Saint-Paul De Vence, home to some of the art world’s most celebrated names including Matisse, Chagall, Modigliani, Mirò and Jean Giono to name a mere few. «I’m secretive with my process, I like putting curtains up so I needed to have a private space to work», he says. Admitting the stakes were high for a young artist would be an understatement, though Barratt acquired an investor who had him producing his transient furniture-meets-sculpture, a theme he has taken forward throughout his career. Straight out of university and with a studio in one of the most renowned ‘artiste’ villages in the world, it’s clear Gregor was moving slightly ahead of his time where most of his friends were doing residency programs to improve their craft. With business at the epicenter of his family ethos, Barratt was keen on forming his own path within the art world. «Though the amount of times I’ve heard people sigh when they say, ‘Oh, he’s an artist’ », is enough to prove that there still is a misunderstanding when it comes to creative industries and the importance of them. Following this Gregor migrated up to Paris where his work was featured in the Biennale De Panam’s second show in October 2019 alongside 25 artists from around the world. Barratt presented ‘Electro-magnetic radiation,’ his first machine made of vintage film projector pieces that would propel a ‘radiation’ effect onto chosen materials under the lens with its’ large-scale reaction unveiling once projected onto a wall, acting almost like a Rorschach test where ink stains are used on paper to decipher between mental states. « would trip out to the imagery that I would be creating live… if you say you see dead people when looking at the ink stains then people think, ‘oh my god he’s crazy, let’s call the men dressed in white’». This experimentation occurred while Barratt was in Lisbon where he would spend hours hypnotized by the changing images in front of the projector as he burned various materials and seeing their transformation. Once the images have transformed, he takes them into a dark room to develop them and usually does so to a background of classical music and the white noise of the muffled room. Only then, once the piece finished, does he begin to attribute meaning and make sense of the works.

The pressure of being a young artist

Still he claims people only take artists seriously once they’ve made a name for themselves, «There just isn’t enough respect for the raw creation side». He continues, «Times change though and that’s what is inspiring for us young artists even if they put themselves through the runner with misery to be able to create — one thing is for sure that life will constantly evolve and change». Whether painting, sculpture, art, «Everything you do changes, it inspires you… the line goes from there to there and then you see the line twist and maybe you’ll see a triangle appear and change your mind. So these are very inspiring times for young people in the art world». Still there seems to be an underlying pressure for young artists or even creatives when often the constant introspection to produce physical extensions of themselves through their work, requires a constant emotional struggle that few discuss in the commercial side of the art world. «Why should there be a stigma of men appearing in white blouses to take you away?» he explains — «an artist is dysfunctional. It’s someone that has divergent signals coming all at once. You have to take all this creativity and digest all the information and try not to think and ignore judgement from others because that doesn’t help. For artists it’s crucial to be around people, to be influenced by things that we see, smell and feel, to always have that maturity to be able to block things out, to close the doors and go find your own intuitions», he says. When it comes to the actual process, it seems like a constant battle, but the artist is winning. Accepting the dysfunction, when harnessed correctly, means that constant questioning leads to incredible artwork that never dies, that can be moulded and improved upon — kind of like human beings in their daily, if not lifelong, quest for improvement.

Mirage B1

What differentiates the creative person from the artist?

According to Gregor, «Anyone can doodle, anyone can draw and immerse themselves in their own process but what differentiates the creative person to the artist is that idea and life philosophy behind their work and the openness and ability to constantly question oneself». And these inner workings are those that great artists have been confronted to and psychiatrists, analysts have been trying to grasp as a result since the beginning of creation. Today we’re marked by a global pandemic that for young artists, constantly judged and caught up in an ‘are they selling — are they showing’ tirade; the confinement could be seen as a blank canvas where everyone, all around the world was forced to spend time with their own thoughts, whether using the time for self-improvement or using it to create art. «In a way it was a liberation when I thought ‘okay now everyone is on pause, I can in freedom spend 100% of my attention into creating, regardless of what’s going to happen’». Sometimes this isn’t enough and creatives will spend their entire lives searching for the meaning and the message they want to convey. For Gregor it’s about finding the lead. «Finding yourself takes a lifetime, but finding the beginning of the lead and clenching onto it is a start. Knowing you are onto the right path to understanding yourself as an artist is the biggest challenge», says Barratt. «When you think about it, no one will ever be able to get inside your head, or see through your eyes. No one will be able to think exactly as you are thinking. From that moment onwards, you have to understand where your thought process is coming from». 

Changing traditional exhibition experiences

Gregor is currently in talks with galleries in Paris about potential immersive exhibitions where he would merge installations with lighting and sound to create unusual experiences. «The projects that I want to work on will be changing traditional exhibition experiences. Perhaps none of the works will be for sale. This is art, you can’t buy it, but you can experience it, maybe it will do something to you. Maybe it will make you think differently. Either way, there are different ways to spend forty minutes in an exhibition than by walking around it indulging in art, when you can come out of a space feeling refreshed as if you’ve just experienced something different». 


Gregor Barratt is a French and English artist, sculptor and photographer based in the south of France. With a Fine Art degree from London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins, he combines metalwork with structural daily objects, welding them together to give them a new function and offering their viewer immersive experiences combining sound with light work and projecting them in real-time. Creating structural furniture for private clients or off-the-scale monumental metal-work for himself, Gregor spends his life fine-tuning the balance to understand and harness an emerging artist’s alluring dysfunction.