Here at HCA Towers, the Mysteries of Holborn unit have once again delved into the archives of the Holborn Dodecahedron to uncover yet more unconvincing footage from Millman Street Community Centre’s glorious past.
This time, the (rightfully) obscure artist Aitkin Thrash-Barrow is central to what little there is of the story. A native son of Grimsby, it was fortuitous that he moved to Holborn, or there would have been no excuse to include him among the other, ahem, ‘mysteries’.
When asked to contribute to this article, his widow replied: “Get stuffed!” and threatened to call the police unless this reporter left immediately (and forever). His surviving children and grandchildren showed an equal lack of enthusiasm in talking about Thrash-Barrow and his work. Yet, a tireless trawl of archives and hearsay unearthed a treasure trove of information:
Thrash-Barrow was, according to various, differing accounts either an escaped criminal, an escaped lunatic or an escaped Surrealist. It speaks volumes for the man that he objected only to the last description: “Surrealism,” he once pontificated with clear distaste for the word, “is a nonsense perpetuated for nonsense’s sake. I, in contrast, am an Unusualist!”
Thrash-Barrow seems to have coined the term Unusualism in 1946 as a gimmick which, frankly, didn’t work. Said to speak in an affected “rasping Victorian monotone”, and dressed in a mixture of day-glo green flannel trousers, winkle pickers and a monocle that had been painted crimson, no known photographs of him exist to prove or disprove this.
He set up his studio in Holborn shortly after VJ Day, having sat out the war in a “reserved occupation” (i.e: cowardly fop). There he worked (i.e: pontificated and swilled sherry) up until his death, aged 96, in 2007. Despite his camera coyness, ironically, his own photography forms the entirety of his body of work.
Notwithstanding his stated aversion to Surrealism, Thrash-Barrow shared with the Surrealists a sweet tooth for pretentious titles, as evidenced in his 2004 work The Encephalitic Blunderer Of The Infamites (or Half-Time In The 1899 FA Cup Final as it is sometimes known) as reproduced below:
None of Thrash-Barrow’s works were sold during his lifetime, nor, indeed, since. In fact, according to Crustie’s, the art auctioneers, his ouevre (reproduced in the following slideshow) has actually decreased in value since his demise – a unique feat in the art world.
Several art historians have suggested that Thrash-Barrow’s work is actually Surrealism (albeit not very good), and that his insistence on it being called Unusualism was merely stubbornness and nit-picking. Artistic temperament, eh, readers?
Aitkin Thrash-Barrow has no known acolytes, and therefore Unusualism remains a one-man art movement. Indeed, in keeping with his obscurity, it is believed that this article is the first and only one on the subject: filler material on a blog no one ever reads…
Unusualism?: the usual poxy photos and rotten report by Notes Smudger, more like