Barlow was born in Newcastle upon Tyne and studied fine art at Chelsea College of Art and Design (1960-63) and the Slade (1963-66). She is known for her large imposing sculptures made from what she calls ‘crap’ materials, such as; plywood, plaster, cement, polystyrene, spray-paint, PVA, scrim, cardboard, felt and rubber. Barlow’s influential teaching career spanned a forty year period which saw her work at art schools in Bristol, Brighton, Chelsea, Camberwell and Slade. Her students included the contemporary artists Rachel Whiteread, Tacita Dean, Douglas Gordon and Martin Creed. Barlow lives and works in London.