Menzies Art Brands



The world evoked by Del Kathryn Barton can appear disturbing and fractionate yet the multiplicity of parts also convey a reassuring sense of wholeness and depth of coexistence. A two-time winner of the Archibald Prize, Barton investigates ideas to do with the representation of human identity, our relationship with the natural world and the workings of the unconscious mind. Her voracious appetite for visual stimuli has led to the mining of art and popular culture from across cultures and centuries. Visual and literary sources cross-connect with her life in the most intriguing ways, including an investigation of human sexuality in all its complexity.

The Love You Know, 2009-10, combines the central figure of a wide-eyed and purse-lipped hermaphrodite (based on the now familiar portrait of the artist) flanked on either side by a carnivorous species, perhaps a thylacine, and a small marsupial or rodent. Both animals cling to outstretched legs that are richly and decoratively adorned. Two birds cavort happily beneath an earring made from a leaf. The central figure is surrounded by a background landscape made up of predominantly pink and white dots, candy-coloured pebbles and a lava substrata in the form of a vulva.

The Love You Know is a fictitious scene that draws on dreams, memory and observation. As with most of Bartons work, the inclusion of animals, plants and foliage harks back to the artists childhood spent in a rural area outside of Sydney. Bartons love of the wild and of an unbridled relationship between humans, animals and nature continues to inform her work and her depictions of imaginary landscapes. Other worldly forests act as a pathway through to the inner machinations of the mind they are a sort of index of the artists inner landscape.

The painting also draws upon rich traditions of art and craft, including the spiritual glow of medieval tapestries and the artists mothers embroidery skills that were passed on to Barton and are now used in her art projects. Through the intricate layering of dots and lines, the work incorporates the screening of meaning found in Aboriginal paintings. Barton has also adapted core imagery from feminist art projects from the 1970s and 80s and explored desire, irrationality and sexual difference in light of leading 20th century Surrealists.

Multiple visual, literary and theoretical sources are brought together and reconfigured by Barton as part of a deliberate strategy of hybridisation. For the artist this process forms part of her more general aspiration to wholeness, psychically and physically ... in observing the disparate nature of the self. More specifically, it led to the realisation that hermaphrodites can conjure different junctures in our life and the polarity of the world we live in.1
In an exhibition of sixty two drawings entitled i am flesh again developed for the exhibition Contemporary Australia: Optimism in late 2008 at Brisbanes Gallery of Modern Art, Barton drew on the notion of the hermaphrodite as an emblem of hope one embodiment of the blending of both man and woman and, therefore, of all the potentialities and aspects of humankind.2 In this respect, the hermaphrodite physiognomy complete with abundant breasts and an ample penis in The Love you Know is, to continue with Julie Ewingtons erudite phrasing, not deficient or monstrous but, rather, especially blessed by their multiple endowments. The front-on stare, alert posture and enlarged outstretched ears (to detect potential threats) suggest protection rather than inertia or fear.

1. Barton, quoted in Ewington, J., Del Kathryn Barton, Piper Press, Sydney, 2014, p.153
2. Ewington, J., Del Kathryn Barton, p.153

Rodney James BA (Hons), MA

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