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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Illustration exhibition: Zoë Barker’s Values

The 'Values' exhibition by illustrator Zoë Barker is a reminder of how brand names change our idea of belonging. The subtle but punchy pencil drawings are now on display at the excellent Department of Coffee and Social Affairs.

Written by Jessica Furseth

There is something slightly uneasy about Zoë Barker’s ‘Values’ series. Not the art itself, as taken in isolation the images are beautifully, meticulously drawn. I’m talking about meaning behind them, which leave you walking away feeling a little awkward. We know that we trade personality for convenience every time we go to Tesco instead of an independent shop, but we do it anyway. But we know we are contributing in a small way to a change that we’re not entirely happy about.

Zoë Barker grew up in a small Suffolk village which was Tesco-free for a long time, before one day she came back to visit family and found a Superstore rudely whacked down right on the high street. This is what prompted the artist and illustrator (and Amelia’s Magazine contributor!) to start her ‘Values’ series.

McDonald’s, Ikea, block housing and packaged holidays are all part of Zoë’s artwork, dramatically juxtaposed against local restaurants, carpenters, classic houses and the English seaside. The pictures are from Zoë’s family albums, but what they represent are things that are local, giving way to brands that lack identity in the sense they could be anywhere. While there is something quite sad about the images, Zoë has been careful to avoid too much nostalgia by making it funny as well; ‘Special things for special friends’ is the tagline for the elderly couple pasted onto the Ann Summers image.

Zoë Barker

The artwork is now on display at the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, a coffee shop on Leather Lane Market in London’s Holborn area. The coffee house has only been open about ten weeks, located in an old ironmongers shop. The rooms are light and airy with plenty of seats, and the coffee is gunpowder strong, sourced from East London coffee masters Climpson & Sons. Hanging in white frames on white walls, Zoë’s pencil-drawn art is the perfect accompaniment to the space, dominated by the rough brick and wood interior which has been preserved from the old shop. It’s the perfect reminder that not all changes are bad – the ironmongers didn’t make it, but out of the ashes has come something beautiful.

The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs (Note the water tap to the left!)

Zoë Barker’s ‘Values’ runs until 16th May at the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, 14-16 Leather Lane, EC1N 7SU. For more information see our listing.

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