The Archibald Prize-winning artist branches out from her painting practise in this exhibition of new work
In her latest exhibition, Del Kathryn Barton presents new paintings, a large-scale tapestry, a complete suite of collages, and some small sculptures. Barton describes it as “a new body of work that dances with female essence both real and imagined. Through our human flesh, the universe feels and can become mindful through us.”
Below is our 2013 interview with the artist.
Del Kathryn Barton: natural woman
“I sometimes feel that it’s not very cool in art at the moment, sadly – but I love things that have a really strong emotionality.”
Del Kathryn Barton is talking about Oscar Wilde’s children’s story The Nightingale and the Rose – but she’s also talking about her own art. “It’s always been very important to me – how a surface can affect you emotionally, and can be unashamedly evocative and emotional.”
The two-time Archibald Prize winner (most recently with her portrait of Hugo Weaving and his cat) is in the throes of prepping her upcoming show at Roslyn Oxley9, titled Pressure to the Need.
“I’m still so deep in the work, I don’t have any objectivity around it yet,” she admits. “I’m nervous about being too reductive. … But if I were to elaborate at all about the title of the show, I’d say that it pertains to those core places within our psyche that kind of inform or motivate our actions or our relationships or how we view the world. They’re knowledge systems or energetic spaces within our psyche that we’re not fully conscious of – but they play a vital role.” She bursts out laughing, as if she’s just heard herself.
Barton’s titles, like her work, are highly intuitive, and she’s not necessarily comfortable talking about any of it when she’s in the thick of her creative process. “I’m also just super-exhausted [right now] so I’m not thinking very clearly,” she laughs. Besides Pressure to the Need, there are other projects – not least of which, turning her illustrated version of The Nightingale and the Rose, released earlier this year, into an animation.
“It’s a place that I love being,” she says of the workload, “but it’s a little overwhelming at the moment… As a working mum, it’s often hard to chisel out a perfect working week, and coming up to deadlines – this one being a major one! – I’m working a lot harder than I’d ideally like to be. The way that I work, you need a certain immersive quality – it’s a challenge [to find that these days]. I think back on all those long studio days – which seem indulgent now! The slow cups of tea… There are no slow cups of tea in the studio now! Everything’s on the go.”
Around 2011, when she began working on illustrations for The Nightingale and the Rose, Barton became enamoured of feathers – not just on creatures, but on her humans forms: “I just fell in love with the capacity for patterning, and what they do to the eye. But I suppose also in terms of the narrative, there’s potentially a metamorphic quality – what will hair be like in the future? Also I’ve always been obsessed with Afros, that more rounded form.
“I’m the worst at grooming,” she adds. “I’m like, who cares!? But the figures in my paintings – they care! Or they just came out looking like that I reckon.”
Pressure to the Need will feature two of her elaborately feather-coiffed ladies. One, a large-scale, elaborately detailed piece titled ‘The Human Dress’, has taken 14 months to complete.
“Most of the works I haven’t had the luxury of working on for that long,” she says. “But that felt like a very comfortable amount of time for this work.”
“The background is a slightly new way of executing the dots; it’s got a kind of embryonic quality, and a sort of pulsating quality. And again, it’s that kind of über-decorative element that I’m always very attracted to, where the surfaces are so densely patterned that they sort of feel over-active. But I suppose the simplicity of the composition is a way of distilling that, or finding some kind of quietude, or harmony.”
The title ‘The Human Dress’ comes from William Blake’s poem ‘A Divine Image’. “My resonance with those three words was those dichotomies between the surface of the body and what we potentially invest in that – how augmented or disproportionate that can become. A lot of the figures in my work are sort of decorated to a point that the beauty is so exaggerated that it has a kind of repelling quality; there’s something that’s gone wrong, but it’s still beautiful – so it sort of pulls you in a pushes you back at the same time.”
For the rest of the show, she says to expect more nudity, and more naturalistic elements. “I’m using a different kind of breast at the moment,” she says – “more pointy.”
“For me, the nude elements in my work are not about nude elements – ideally when you look at the painting, it’s not what you notice first; it’s just part of a natural order.”