Diego Rivera's bicycle pursuit of Frida Kahlo in Hampstead

PUBLISHED: 10:52 27 May 2008 | UPDATED: 15:06 07 September 2010

Unashamedly plundering characters from literature and art history, Mychael Barratt creates affectionate narrative paintings and prints with London settings. As his exhibition Urban Myths at Gallery K in Hampstead celebrates the Hampstead and Highgate Fest

Unashamedly plundering characters from literature and art history, Mychael Barratt creates affectionate narrative paintings and prints with London settings. As his exhibition Urban Myths at Gallery K in Hampstead celebrates the Hampstead and Highgate Festival, most depict local scenes - though personalities may be imported. The title painting depicts Mexican muralist Diego Riviera pursuing his wife Frida Kahlo, mounted on a bicycle, down Hampstead High Street.

Storytelling, employing day-to-day incidents, is central to his work. Chagallesque lovers are everywhere - floating over rooftops of St Paul's and earthbound from an upside-down viewpoint in Cloudspotting on the Heath. Hampstead also features in a pair of paintings of lovers called Poetry in Motion, with I (pictured) set outside the Holly Bush pub and II in nearby Golden Yard.

Barratt, who lives in Muswell Hill, is a Canadian who came to London 24 years ago: "I've had the immigrant's zeal for London ever since I decided to stay on indefinitely after a two-week visit."

Initially a painter who worked as an illustrator, he happened upon an exhibition of Chris Orr's etchings and found the potential of intaglio printmaking for intense chiaroscuro inspirational.

He enrolled in an etching course and discovered that using soft ground drawn lines with aquatint best suited his image-making.

Recently he was commissioned to write a book on all types of intaglio printmaking - not only the indirect techniques he favoured, where acid is used to etch the plate, but also direct methods where lines are incised, as in engraving.

Barratt spoke to practitioners of all methods and also tried them himself. The exhibition includes a remarkable paper "intaglio quilt" with methods illustrated by witty motifs drawing on Shakespeare's plays. "Out, out, damn spot" from Macbeth becomes a woman shooing a dog away and "a harmless necessary cat" from The Merchant of Venice is a portrait of Chloe, the Globe Theatre's cat.

Printmaking is a skill which is best learnt by watching and doing, but this book is an accessible comprehensive survey of methods illustrated by interesting contemporary printmakers - with the author well represented. Published this month by A&C Black, it is on sale at Gallery K for £15.99.

Urban Myths runs until June 14 at 101-103 Heath Street, NW3, Tuesday to Friday 10am to 6pm,

Saturday 11am to 6pm, Sunday 2pm to 6pm.


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