30. DEL KATHRYN BARTON
Del Kathryn Barton’s art has rapidly come to the attention of both Australian and international audiences over the last decade. Her meteoric rise into the upper stratosphere of Australian art has seen her become one of this country’s most recognisable and collectible artists. In 2017, Barton held her first solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, The Highway is a Disco, which revealed the breadth of her practice and her maturity as an artist. The artist is a two-time winner of Australia’s best-known prize for portraiture, the Archibald Prize – her entry in 2008 was an expression of the love she has for her children and an insight into how becoming a mother has transformed her art practice.
The natural world fundamentally underpins Barton’s oeuvre and the themes that fall within this sphere: fertility, creation, evolution – she examines the life forces within this world and how they co-exist. These themes were at the forefront of Barton’s mind when she created the present work in 2010, even if it means the end of you. The artist was invited to participate in the exhibition, Wilderness, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales which opened in March 2010. Barton’s major work for this important exhibition was the seven-metre long we too have been there, though we shall land no more, an impressive tableaux of alabaster-skinned figures intertwined with verdant foliage and numerous animal familiars. Parallels can be drawn between the present work and this extraordinary canvas created in the same year and inspired by the French post-impressionist painter, Henri Rousseau (1844-1910).
In the present work, intimate physical relationships bring the inhabitants of Barton’s world together, creating a deeper interconnectedness within. The female figure embraces her two animal companions who act as sentries to their mother/keeper. A canine-like creature with splayed claws and bared teeth acts as guard and protector. The female figure shares some of the attributes of her animal familiars, her face is tilted upwards as if searching for unseen dangers. The artist’s biographer, Julie Ewington, describes the psychic tension that is present in Barton’s figures, ‘One senses that everything is felt intensely by these people, to an exquisitely exaggerated degree.’1
Barton’s art is characteristically hyper-active; her compositions hum with energy, colour and pattern, with every centimetre of the surface covered with manifestations of the natural world. even if it means the end of you demonstrates the dynamic, life-giving energy present in the artist’s work which derives from Barton’s powerful maternal instinct. The birth of her first child in 2003 changed her artistic practice and brought a new perspective, ‘It was just a completely different way of being, I had a completely different relationship to my body. I started painting for the first time and using colour, there was a kinetic energy that came through in my practice.’2
Del Kathryn Barton is currently one of the most collectible contemporary artists in Australia with the increasing value of her art reflecting the increasing demand by collectors of her unique work. Her artworks are now in the permanent collections of most Australian public art galleries and major corporate collections including BHP Billiton, Melbourne; Esk Collection, Hobart; UBS, Sydney; The University of Sydney Union Collection, Sydney and the University of New South Wales, Sydney.
1. Ewington, J., Del Kathryn Barton, Piper Press, Sydney, 2014, p.37
2. Del Kathryn Barton interview, ‘Del Kathryn Barton is a Painter’, Dumbo Feather, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gb1HhOWR8WA, accessed 4 July 2018
Caroline Jones, MArtAdmin