The Wednesbury Blobber
Fred Barnfield was born in Wednesbury 1935, raised in Tipton in an area known as the ‘Lost City’.
His dad dying young, meant that his family were consigned to a life of hardship.
Fred is the artist generally known as the ‘Wednesbury Blobber’.
He was for 20 years a foundry man and a security guard.
But sometime in the early 1970s he picked up a few tins of paint and the rest is history.
He has lived and worked all his life in the industrial Black Country, mostly in Tipton where his family roots lay and of course Wednesbury, were he was born and returned to live.
A “Multi-stylist” artist, sculptor, writer and philosopher has created a multitude of influential styles.
The most famous being blobology and barcodes.
Others include knets, shadism, nirvanas, phonebirds, plus more…
He is a prolific self taught outsider and late developer.
He started painting and drawing, in his mid 20’s and early 30’s for want of something to do and relax after a day’s work as an iron moulder in a foundry by copying from art books, borrowed from libraries.
At the young age of 74 his latest was work was his 4D exhibition at the Tipton library presented in his own unique way from a clothes line so his art could be seen from both sides.
Mostly they were quickly done oil studies on cardboard, drawings on paper.
He did a lot of tracing at speed with pen and ink and smudging with a damp finger.
He fantasied himself a great artist, and signed his early works with the name: ‘Djebel’.
(After a great French racehorse)
Horse Racing is Barnfield’s other lifelong passion, and in his mid 30’s, his passion of art and Horse Racing became a joint obsession.
A discovered photo of a painting by Barnfield of Wednesbury landscape Churches, (signed and dated 1964)
With their twin spires on the towns historic hill could be his first real attempt at artistic creation.
The suggested spires are just about recognisable through a haze of blinding creamy light and said to be very “impressionistic in technique”.
In 1968, he showed his first ever works in public in Lichfield ibrary.
An exhibition of crayon drawing s of African Masks, copied out of an art book on African Art. And also, the only time he showed any works signed Djebel.
What I found really interesting was his continuous flitting from Art to gambling?
He became successful as a gambler in a small way, both on Horse Racing and local Football Pools.
Due to what he called “The world of mathematical value betting”.
He even wrote a “Stallion Breeding Chart and went into Mail Order, selling it under the trade name of Wilwyn, (Another famous horse)
The Stallions Breeding Chart was a simple chart all about breeding the best horses together and of course there is no exact formula for this, it was just one more thing that people found fascinating.
(There is a link below if you are interested in reading about “The Stallions Breeding Chart and “The magic of value betting” )
He had a few interesting hobbies, but it is as an artist that he is known for
His first significant art work was Handsworth 1973, (Although this was never shown in public)
It was painted on a discarded haulage canvas (5’x 6’) Inspired by the race riot at Handsworth at the time.
The semi abstracted scene shows a group of people of all ages, with the same dual appearance in a sort of war with them selves and everyone and everything.
His first one-man exhibition of Paintings was at West Bromwich Library, 1973, after hearing from the Chief Librarian Richard B Ludgate, that the walls were to be filled with reproductions of great paintings on show and for loaning.
And in the winter of 1973 Richard Ludgate gave Barnfield his first one-man exhibition.
A newspaper article at the time described some of the paintings on show, “portraits done in a sparse realistic style on unframed canvas nailed to the wall, as revealing his compassion”.
These bare canvases, begged from a haulage contractor were cut from a lorry’s scrapped weather sheet.
This and their stitching added to the starkness of the paintings along with the oily stains and smell.
They were inspired by incidents in everyday life, like the sad little cameo of the boy whose dog had just been run over.
Another was of a man worn out by the sheer hard physical work in the Black Country.
Also a Mother and Child portrait. Influenced by Francis Bacon’s “Screaming Pope”.
A charcoal portrait of a Sleeping Woman, done in Leonardo’s mode was added to the exhibition and signed prints distributed.
Women of Wednesbury, 1974, is an unashamedly ‘spin off’ of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon 1907
Barnfield’s first one-man exhibition at a “major Art Gallery” was at Wednesbury Art Gallery in 1974.
The centrepiece was his large painting of Women of Wednesbury, surrounded by a massive exhibition of smaller works with the same theme: Wednesbury Woman. But who were they?
It’s doubtful if any recognised themselves, that is if any bothered to see the exhibition.
But Barnfield has never been interested in being popular.
I have to confess that I have never been into any kind of modern art, no matter who painted it!
Maybe I’m simply being ignorant … but I just never “got it”, you know?
Art to me as always been the ability to bring life into the canvas, (much like a photograph does) whatever the medium you choose to work with: wood, paper or brick walls.
I do love Wall Art, there are some amazing paintings out there.
But throwing paint, blobbing, smearing and walking in paint on canvas? … I don’t get it myself.
But I like the story behind this man and the fact that, thousands of works later, he was still painting and exhibiting at the age of 78.
It is just a shame though that, after he had passed through his blobbing period, his montage period and his chaos period, he then went onto dabbling in the super minimalist world of plain coloured canvases, deliberately creased.
(That is a blank canvas that has been creased?) Oh well … as long as it was purposeless creased, correctly … then .. it must be art)
A quote from the man himself:
“I call myself a drag artist – I’ve got to drag people into my exhibitions.
I had only 14 visitors to one exhibition and two of them were myself”.
I like ‘him’, even if I don’t appreciate “some” his ‘Art’.