By Design, a talk series at Sir John Soane’s Museum, in partnership with Luke Irwin, is back for its fourth season.  Internationally renowned designers are invited to discuss their practice through a single object from the Museum. In this talk, Alice Rawsthorn talks to artist Alvaro Barrington.

Inspired by Sir John Soane’s own extraordinary collection, and co-hosted by Will Gompertz, Director of Arts and Learning at the Barbican, and Alice Rawsthorn, award-winning design critic and author, the series reflects on the power of objects – large or small, mundane or exceptional, aesthetic or utilitarian – to spark new ideas, and act as a spur for different forms of creativity. 

The talk will take place in the Museum's Library Dining Room. Doors will open at 6:30pm, with a chance to explore the museum by candlelight. The talk runs from 7pm to 8pm, followed by a drinks reception in the South Drawing Room.

Book your tickets now, via our Shop website.

About the speakers

Alvaro Barrington practices painting in its widest definition to explore the stories we tell about ourselves and about others. As he says, “It’s my way of learning and unlearning things I’m curious about and things I’ve been told.” For Barrington, painting is a way to experience the world we inhabit and to explore the role of painting itself within the long tradition of storytelling. Past exhibitions have looked at birthing and immigration (Sadie Coles, London, 2019); aspirations in the black community (St. George Projects, Brooklyn, 2021); and mass incarceration and notions of time (Blum and Poe, Los Angeles, 2022). During the 2020 lockdown Barrington made a body of work that explored self-love and digital identity creation in isolation (Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris, 2021).

It is essential to Barrington that art meets folks in the spaces they feel themselves. One such space is Carnival, which he credits as the first fully-formed artistic experience of his life. Barrington began collaborating with Notting Hill Carnival in 2019. That same year, he produced his first concert, One Famalay, which brought Soca artists such as Machel Montano, Skinny Fabulous and others to London for an audience of 3,500 people. For 2022, Barrington produced Queens of the Caribbean, the official concert of Notting Hill Carnival.

Barrington has long been engaged with teaching art, first in his travels through Latin America and more recently at The Slade School of the Fine Art - UCL, London; The Cooper Union, NYC; and Hunter College, NYC. In 2019, Barrington co-curated Artists I Steal From with Dame Julia Peyton Jones exploring lessons Barrington has learnt from looking at historic artists—including Bourgeois, de Kooning, Basquiat, Andre, Pierre, etc.—as well as artists Barrington considers peers and mentors, such as Issy Wood, Laura Owens, and former Slade classmate Amelia Barratt.

A student of artists such as Tupac Shakur, who rapped about everything from love, women, blaming his mother, his brother’s drug addiction, needing to fight the system, and getting rich, Barrington believes anything he is curious can become a part of his work.


Alice Rawsthorn is an award-winning design critic and author, whose books include Design as an AttitudeHello World: Where Design Meets Life and, most recently, Design Emergency: Building a Better Future, co-written with Paola Antonelli, senior curator of design at MoMA, New York. Alice’s weekly design column for The New York Times was syndicated worldwide for over a decade. In all her work, Alice champions design’s potential as a social, political and ecological tool. Born in Manchester and based in London, she is a founding member of the Writers for Liberty campaign for human rights and of the advisory boards of DemocracyNext and the OECD’s Future of Democracy Network. Alice and Paola are co-founders of Design Emergency, a research platform and podcast that investigates design’s role in forging a fairer future.

Picture credits: Alvaro Barrington by Jeremiah Cumberbatch/Alice Rawsthorn by Michael Leckie

Supported by