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In “Barkley” at Apartment 13 Gallery, A Cult Hero Makes a Comeback

Barkley from Barkley’s Barnyard Critters performs and transforms this experimental gallery space with floor-to-ceiling drawings.

Review by Gina Lindner

The walls and floors of a room are covered with splatters of black paint.

Installation view, “Barkley” at Apartment 13 Gallery, 2023. Photo by Gina Lindner.

Who is Barkley? A dog, a cult figure, a rock star, the alter ego of artist and Lightning Bolt bassist Brian Gibson. Most notably, he’s the unruly star of the cult-favorite animated series Barkley’s Barnyard Critters—an exhilarating synthesis of hand-drawn, early CGI, and live-action animation, noise-rock music, ASMR-inducing foley, and unforgettable characters and voices. In this world animated and created by Gibson starting in the late nineties, Barkley is a beer-swigging rocker dog with bipolar disorder who hangs out, goes on adventures, and plays music with his band of animal friends, the Barnyard Critters.

“Barkley” is also the name of an exhibition at Apartment 13 Gallery, a curatorial project space in Providence led by Joshua Boulos and Baijun Chen. The project space is run out of the duo’s apartment, where they’ve transformed a classic New England living room into a space for provocative exhibitions on a shoestring budget. On February 12, 2023, the gallery set the stage for a performance by Barkley as embodied by Gibson. Dressed in a furry animal jumpsuit and a foam-fabricated Barkley head, he took to the walls and floors with a bucket of black paint—his drawing tool of choice: a paintbrush maneuvered by a drill, constantly spinning—while creating a live soundtrack with an electric bass and a loop pedal. The goal: “to get as far away from thinking as possible,” as Boulos recounts.

Left: Still from the Barkley’s Barnyard Critters episode “Mystery Tail” (2006), Caroline Distribution Studio. Right: Installation view, “Barkley” at Apartment 13 Gallery, 2023. Photo by Gina Lindner.

I only witnessed the performance’s aftermath, yet Barkley’s presence was palpable. In every stroke, spatter, stain, and glob of paint, I felt the ghost of Barkley—not only in the performance’s detritus, but also re-embodied through an inflatable tube-dog, which Boulos activated upon entering the gallery as a way of “resetting” the space. The noise of the inflatable in such a contained space was overwhelming and induced hysterical laughter from me. We rummaged through the pages of newsprint that had blown across the floor, each a scrap of the whole that is Barkley: some with discernable Barkley and the Barnyard Critters iconography and all with an astonishing array of mark-making. The energy is raw, reckless, orgasmic, and far more interesting than any Kline or Pollock. One work, Untitled (Barkey on Motorbike), is especially turbulent: a Barkley face emerging from a dense cyclone of forms that appears to be imploding, surrounded by footprints as if Barkley had defied gravity and tromped across the walls.

Untitled (Barkey on Motorbike), 2023. Acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12 feet. Photo by Gina Lindner.

“Barkley” is more than what meets the eye, and more than just cosplay: It’s a portal into Barkley’s subconscious, a reincarnation of his spirit, a dadaist expulsion of thought and release of emotion. It’s what happens when we let our innermost self and deepest desires run wild. Or maybe it’s just about making a mess. For artists and art world folks, witnessing the results of such an uninhibited act of creation brings a big sigh of relief.

“Barkley” is also a testament to the power of the cult community. Beyond the animated series—which is gaining new traction today among younger audiences on the internet—Barkley’s spirit lives in the oral histories and memories passed between friends and across generations. To many, he’s a source of wisdom and of courage to confront one’s demons, be it addiction and mental illness or the malarkey and fun-sucking tendencies of the academic art world. I’m only just getting to know Barkley, but I’ll be taking a piece of his philosophy with me: Stop making sense and have more fun.

Barkley” was on view at Apartment 13 Gallery from February 12 to March 22, 2023.


A black and white drawing of Gina Lindner slightly looking down at the viewer. Her hair is clipped behind her head and eyeglasses rest atop her forehead.

Gina Lindner

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