del kathryn barton

Mother, Daughter, Dancer

For Del Kathryn Barton, a prolific practice that spans drawing, painting, film and photography, is the portal to an inner universe — one ruled by boundless imagination and the need to follow creative curiosity to its inevitable ends.

By Sammy Preston

“The house went up like a bomb,” says Del Kathryn Barton. The two-time Archibald Prize winning artist is recalling the time her childhood home was set ablaze. It was the day of her first public exhibition – a body of work conjured up post art school, from a time she’d retreated away from Sydney city student life to dwell in the quieter realm of her family’s sweeping bushland block. “I was throwing artworks out onto the front lawn, and trying to think about things like photo albums,” she says.

“We lost everything. It was a pretty catastrophic experience to say the least.” The fire was unfathomably devastating for the family, but in a way propelling and regenerative for the artist. “It thrust me back out into the world. I suppose I feel that’s where my journey as a professional artist, or however you want to categorise it, really started.”

Perhaps somewhat symbolically, it’s Barton’s relentless, fiery imagination that has forever been the spark and the burning hot core of her work. Peering into the layered, explosive composition of her painting, you are straightaway transported into the narrative of a rich cosmic netherworld, an “adult fairy-tale” as she would have it. “From quite a young age, not only did I love drawing anyway and drew obsessively, I lived a very fertile life of the imagination,” she says. “I absolutely believed in unicorns; I had fairy friends.” The essence of a lush, generative Australian bush, drawn from that childhood, permeates almost every scene, too. Her statuesque space goddesses wear... Subscribe to read this article in full

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