Simeon Barclay: The Hero Wears Clay Shoes at Tate Britain

Simeon Barclay’s current exhibition ‘The Hero Wears Clay Shoes’ at Tate Britain opens insight into how we construct and perform our identities based on what magazines, television, and music tell us. The series of works on display explore how masculine and feminine roles are expressed through media, showing images and adverts of actresses and models wearing beautiful clothing and makeup, while footballers and burly men, tell the audience what they should deem attractive and how they should look and act a certain way.

The room is divided by a structure made from metal poles, which has neon pieces of artwork hanging on it. Around the room, there are collages of fictional and non-fictional characters, which show how we relate to contemporary culture and define our own identities from it.

Barclay uses popular culture from when he was growing up, such as perfume adverts that were on television and actresses and athletes that were famous during that time. He mixes television dramas with comics and athletes from 1980s Britain to show athleticism and masculinity, alongside class and beauty.

There are televisions around the room, playing adverts from the 1980s onward, which show women applying makeup and Calvin Klein perfume adverts showing perfectly made-up almost-nude women, while the men are shown as rugged and strong. These adverts alongside a performance by Martha Rosler deconstruct the fashion and beauty industries’ power to seduce and provoke consumption of a false identity.

There is a huge wall placed on the far side of the exhibition, painted bright yellow with dark black writing and drawings, that stands out immediately amongst everything else. The wall has pictures of gymnasts on it along with the word ‘Swamped’ as a reference to Margaret Thatcher describing immigration and the conflict it alludes to that surrounds and shapes British culture and identity.

The use of harsh industrial materials around the exhibition makes this it unique, while referencing the aspirational lifestyle of the industry seen in fashion magazines. This exhibition is a magnificent visual mash-up of images of actors and actresses, athletes, and comic characters, relating to society and the signposts strewn along the paths of the search for identity.

'The Hero Wears Clay Shoes' is on show at Tate Britain until 5th November 2017.  Find more information here.