Nothing Is Nothing

Manic Street Preachers, 1994. Photo by Neil Cooper. Painting by Barry Kamen

Barry Kamen’s contribution to The Holy Bible is easy to overlook. A respected figure in the world of fashion, his involvement with Manic Street Preachers’ third album seems to be nothing more than a happy accident. A friend of the design house responsible for overseeing the sleeve and booklet design for the record, Kamen visited their offices during the production of The Holy Bible and painted over a photo of the band taken by Neil Cooper. The resulting image was used for the back cover of the album, which sees the Manics posing in military uniform, only now standing in a circle of fire, each member given a blue halo.

But despite this brief interaction with the group, and as with the work of Jenny Saville and Martin Kippenberger, Kamen’s own wide-ranging body of artwork reflects the imagery, themes and multimedia style of The Holy Bible in its own fascinating, coincidental ways that repay closer attention.

Kamen is best known for his involvement with the Buffalo collective. Led by stylist Ray Petri between 1984 and 1989, Buffalo influenced the fashion industry and popular youth culture in numerous ways. It was multi-ethnic and abandoned gender stereotypes. Inspiration was drawn from traditional African and Native American Indian dress as well as punk gestures and Parisian chic. Petri avoided modelling agencies, finding inspiration in local street life. Kamen said of Petri: ““He took these kids off the street and put them in front of the camera for the first time. A mixed-race boy is now the normal, quintessential, good-looking boy, but at the time it was shocking.” [1]

Kamen grew up in Harlow, Essex and described himself as “a total product of colonialism”, being of mixed Burmese, Irish, Dutch and English heritage. [2] As a model, he became a central figure in Petri’s style revolution, which was inspired as much by music as global clothing trends. The collective also included Kamen’s brother (and model and pop singer) Nick, stylist Mitzi Lorenz, and photographers Jamie Morgan, Marc Lebron and Cameron McVey among others.

Ten years before Manic Street Preachers’ notorious trip to Thailand was featured in The Face ahead of the release of The Holy Bible, the Kamen brothers were photographed together for the magazine, launching the Buffalo look. It was in The Face, i-D and Arena that Petri and the collective first made its mark. MA-1 flight jackets, Levi jeans, Dr Marten boots and pork pie hats became signature items. Sportswear was combined with sartorial elegance. Buffalo images reflected urban toughness, Hollywood beauty and androgyny. New silhouettes were formed from a collage of influences. Singer Neneh Cherry famously referenced the style on her 1988 single ‘Buffalo Stance’. Eventually, the Buffalo look was mimicked on catwalks the world over.

The influence of Buffalo would continue long after Petri’s death in 1989. Kamen said: “It wasn’t about the clothes; it was about the attitude. Everyone’s eyes, everybody’s thinking. You know it looks quite soulful, you know it was much more, you know Ray was a real romantic.” [3]

Kamen was also a prolific painter. As the selection of his work below shows, his artistic output involved the creative use of found materials and an interest in iconography and history that resonates with the music and art of Manic Street Preachers in the Holy Bible era. Religious symbolism, philosophical elements, an iconoclastic spirit, and the interaction of language, figuration and texture are all evident.

Barry Kamen died in 2015 at the age of 52.  

From Le Vatican. Photo 2011
From Cicero Selected Letters. Photo 2011

The use of found texts is widespread in Kamen’s art. Book pages are painted over in what appears to be an unconscious, expressionistic style. But there is typically a considered engagement with the specific material, whether through erasure, addition, or other gestures that prompts the viewer to reconsider the whole. In many examples, there is a clear use of religious source materials and/or symbolism.

From is nothing is. Photo 2011
From is nothing is. Photo 2011
From is nothing is. Photo 2011

The word ‘nothing’ is shown, somewhat paradoxically, to be rich with expressive potential. As in Shakespeare’s King Lear (‘Nothing will come of nothing.’) and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (‘Nothing to be done.’) It is crucial to The Holy Bible too, on which James Dean Bradfield sings, ‘I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing’. This series also considers the nature of God, desire and the soul using as its basis Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1896 collection of reflective essays, The Treasure of the Humble.

From Evolution of England. Photo 2010

Evolution of England combines erasure and ink drawing, referring to photographic images of historical figures which have been recomposed by hand over another found text. Featuring Adolf Hitler on one page, and Andy Warhol showing the scars that resulted from his attempted assassination by Valerie Solanas on the other, this part of the artwork in particular resonates with the title and lyrics of ‘Of Walking Abortion’.

From Evolution of England. Photo 2010

Certain figures from culture and politics feature in Kamen’s artworks repeatedly, often across a variety of media. Mao Zedong is represented in drawn, painted and collaged form. Incidentally, the Chinese communist leader’s image also features on the military jacket worn by Nicky Wire in the group portrait of Manic Street Preachers painted over by Kamen in 1994.

Mao So. From the series Paint Plaster. Photo 2011

All artworks by Barry Kamen under copyright.



[1] Graham, Mhairi ‘How Buffalo shaped the landscape of 80s fashion’, Dazed Digital, 24 August 2015. Accessed online at (3 March 2021)

[2] Stansfield, Ted ’80s style icon and Buffalo boy Barry Kamen dies aged 52′, Dazed Digital, 5 October 2015. Accessed online at (3 March 2021)

[3] Smith, Zadrian ‘Ray Petri(e): The Man and His Legacy’, Volt Café, 2 September 2013. Accessed online at (3 March 2021)

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