Menzies Art Brands




An artists first forays into the auction market are generally low-key affairs, with works achieving modest prices until the artists profile extends far beyond the walls of the gallery. Their ability to produce a body of uniquely recognisable work, which transcends the predictable and remains consistently on collectors must-have lists, must be demonstrated over a considerable period of time.

That is, unless the demand for an artists work far outstrips supply at gallery level, with an ever-lengthening waiting list of buyers earnestly scouring auction catalogues on the off chance that a private collector has decided to relinquish a tightly held work.

Such was the case in 2007 when the first painting by Del Kathryn Barton appeared at auction. Confetti Rain 2005 created a tsunami of interest, necessitating a small platoon of telephone bidding clerks and resulting in the numerous highly motivated buyers in the room pitting their energies against a number of equally determined absentee bidders, as well as those on the phones. This flurry of activity resulted in the work achieving a price more than six times the original estimate.

Since then Barton has gone on to become one of Australias most successful contemporary artists, winning the Archibald twice (in 2008 and 2013) and being selected as a finalist twice (in 2007 and 2011). She has become known for extensive explorations of motherhood and the feminine, such as in her 2008 Archibald winning entry, You are what is most beautiful about me, which depicts the artist and her children in a pose reminiscent of the many limbed Hindu Mother Goddess, Durga.

The artists considerable achievements have resulted in a steady stream of media attention, critical recognition and market success, with her vast creative imagination and energies spilling over into other projects, including a collaboration with innovative Australian fashion label, Romance Was Born and the illustrated book, The Nightingale and the Rose, inspired by Oscar Wildes classic tale. In May 2016, Barton and her co-director, Brendan Fletcher, won an Australian Directors Guild Award for Best Direction in an Animation for their hallucinatory short animated feature of the same name.

The artists delicately rendered paintings, which employ a wide range of painstakingly applied media, are simultaneously highly contemporary and strangely nostalgic. Their rich symbolism and uncanny other-worldly quality is said to spring more from the realm of fairy tales and the natural world than from the pages of science fiction.1

Bartons works are filled with rich imagery grounded in the Australian bush of the artists childhood and in Girl #5 2004 we see creatures reminiscent of blue wrens and gang-gang cockatoos coexisting with typical Australian motifs such as gum leaves and grevilleas.

However, the artist skilfully avoids clichs by offsetting this profusion of natural imagery with the arresting gaze of the central figure, as if the girl is posing a wordless challenge to the viewer for daring to intrude into her solitary and self-sufficient realm. Bartons subjects are simultaneously in and of the natural world, yet their penetrating pool-eyed gaze renders them somehow alien to it, although it is perhaps more accurate to say that it is the world of humans from which they are removed, rather than from the realm of nature.

Bartons paintings are notable for the evident interconnectedness between the central subjects and the natural elements with which they coexist. Julie Ewington, in whose lavish publication on the artist the current work is illustrated, comments that the creatures depicted in her works are closer to supernatural animal familiars,2 than domesticated and obedient companions.

In Girl #5 2004 the inherent sympathy between the disparate elements of this highly imaginative work provides a cohesive internal logic which is further underpinned by the artists considerable technical ability.


1. Julie Ewington, Del Kathryn Barton, , Piper Press, Sydney, 2014, p53

2. Ibid, pp.31, 37, 55

Anne Phillips BA (Hons), MA

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