ARNDT Singapore’s first solo exhibition by acclaimed Australian artist Del Kathryn Barton entitled ‘the highway is a disco’ represents the artist’s solo debut abroad. Earning countless accolades within her home country—including winning the prestigious annual portrait competition the Archibald Portrait Prize twice—Barton is considered one of the leading artists of her generation.
Best known for her highly detailed paintings filled with vibrantly adorned figurative imagery, Barton’s artistic strength and basis for creative exploration derives from her drawing talents. The precise, yet organic drawn line. Not dissimilar to the freehand simplicity displayed in the work of artists such as Egon Schiele or graphic Japanese animations, Barton boldly brings to life the outlines of female faces and bodies with architectural pens directly onto her canvases. Leaving no room for error or hesitation, each mark is intentional. The building blocks of her creations laid bare.
Barton’s meticulous ensuing processes involve, layer upon layer, the application of immaculate detail and technical dexterity via her signature acrylic and gouache finishes that offer a window into another realm. No part of the picture plane is left untouched. Countless confetti-like spots and dotting simulate the emittance of energy, presenting dense, populated compositions.
Barton’s visual lexicon invites viewers to explore the depths of a very particular, and at times alien, beauty. Disconcertingly intense, Barton’s uniquely elaborate and titillating scenes of cornucopia bring into focus inner worlds of feminine sexuality. A sustained tension between pleasure and unease, earthy delights and the fantastic are conveyed through bewildered looks of longing in the eyes of supernatural beings, contorted, elongated hands, and the combination of nudity with disarmingly girly adornment of ribbons, bows and bonnets. Here, childish innocence confronts transcendent libidinal states.
‘the highway is a disco’ continues Barton’s trajectory in navigating the language surrounding female existence and desire. The exhibition presents a new suite of major paintings, digital collages, sculptures and film. Barton’s signature diptych ‘the cosmos is disco lust’ (2015) presents three female figures in the throes of playful, psychedelic ecstasy, intertwined with various flora, fauna and coloured tendrils. Upon a cosmic backdrop, two empowered female deities ride a pair of kangaroos, seemingly floating amongst foliage, lily pads and the bright red flower of the waratah—an Australian native.
Such abundance continues in her pieces ‘wild carrot dream’, (2015), ‘the highway is a disco’, (2015) and ‘within my pleats’, (2015) whereby a menagerie of unclassifiable mystic creatures are juxtaposed by repetitive abstract patterning. Barton’s decorated version of euphoria engages in animist mythology directly in this new body of work.
Barton’s series of collages ‘inside another land’, (2015) apposes the female form with exotic flowers that appear like vulvas. Taking Hegel’s lead (in his Philosophy of Nature, Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830)) orchids become anatomised. Florid orifices are conjoined with splayed legs and set against hallucinatory resonant patterns that recall Dadaist photomontages.
Her sculpture ‘with flowers’, (2015) pays homage to the history of women’s artmaking and the artistic practice of the late Louise Bourgeois. Made from bronze, this spider structure adorned with flowers is an ode to Bourgeouis’ towering sculpture ‘Maman’ (1999) that engages with the sphere of domestic nurture. The role of motherhood portrayed as at once beautiful and terrifying. The other sculpture in the show ‘to feel’, (2015) features a chaotic ball of disembodied baby arms reaching out in a variety of directions.
Perhaps the epitome of Barton’s quest to represent the ultimate act of love is in her film ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’, (2014). Evoking a beautiful sadness, Barton’s animated illustrations in the film bring to life the Irish playwright and poet Oscar Wilde’s eponymous dark fairy tale of unrequited love. The Nightingale and the Rose premiered at the Berlin International Film festival this year
Barton’s ‘the highway is a disco’ takes visitors on an imaginative journey that knows no bounds.
Del Kathryn Barton has participated in many important group exhibitions that include: Express Yourself: Romance Was Born for Kids, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2014), Dark Heart, Adelaide Biennale of Australian Art, Adelaide (2014); Theatre of the World, Museum of Old and New Art, Tasmania (2012), Lightness and Gravity, Gallery of Modern Art, Queensland (2012); Freehand: Recent Australia Drawing, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne (2010/11); 2009 Wynne Prize for Landscape, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (2009) Half a World Away: Drawings from Glasgow, Sao Paulo and Sydney, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Centre, Buffalo, New York (2002).
Barton was awarded The Archibald Prize, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney twice, in 2013 and 2008, in addition to being nominated for a range of awards that include the Dobell Drawing Prize, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (2007) and The Sulman Prize, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (1995).
Barton produced the acclaimed film animation “Oscar Wilde’s The Nightingale and the Rose”–a haunting adaptation of Wilde’s short story about the price of love – that made its world premiere at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival and was screened at the 2015 Melbourne International Film Festival. Her film received critical acclaim and was awarded the Film Victoria Erwin Rado Award for Best Australian Short Film.
Exhibition Dates: October 31 – December 6, 2015
Opening: Saturday, October 31, 2015 from 4 – 7 pm
Venue: ARNDT Singapore, Gillman Barracks, 9 Lock Road #03-21, Singapore 108937