Art Sets.

The art that made me: Del Kathryn Barton

By the Art Gallery of NSW
Photo of Del Kathryn Barton

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Photo of Del Kathryn Barton

In The art that made me, artists discuss works in the Art Gallery of NSW collection that inspire, influence or simply delight them. This selection by artist Del Kathryn Barton first appeared in Look - the Gallery's members' magazine.

Collection works by women which resonate with their lived experiences hold a deep fascination for two-time Archibald winner Del Kathryn Barton. Elemental and exposed, works by Jenny Watson, Louise Bourgeois, Sally Gabori and Joy Hester have had a profound influence on the Sydney artist, germane to her own investigations of the body, identity, states of being, collective unconscious and the senses.

‘I love the narrative content that speaks directly to kind of a physiological life,’ she has said, while her own aesthetic ‘pulls you in and pushes you back at the same time. It seduces you but it slaps you round.’

Barton’s 2018 Archibald entry Self-portrait with studio wife is one of 57 finalists touring to Tamworth, Orange and Lismore until June 2019.


Sally Gabori Dibirdibi country

I will never forget the first time I stood in front of a Sally Gabori. It was a body/brain apocalypse, a punch in the wake-up-gut-of life. Experiencing this work catapulted me into my body, into the mighty intoxication of colour and composition. What sings out to me, roaring with power, is the confidence of mark and shape and story. And, in my humble understanding, this masterwork is born from a raw, corporeal, alchemical connection to land.
I bow down.


Joy Hester Two sunken lovers bodies lay

Joy Hester is an artist very dear to my creative heart. The give-everything-up and I-am-offering-my-deepest-self quality of her work means everything to me. Hester’s realms of energetic being-ness and expression feel sacred within the world of iconography. This dark, subtle work resonates for me with an agency of connectivity, on one level, and, equally, with an implicit threat of loss, death and longing. Like all my art heroes, I believe Joy’s work without hesitation. It operates beyond the confessional, beyond the descriptive – it quietly announces itself with truth and sincerity. I bow down.


Jenny Watson Wings of desire 1

When I stand in front of this extraordinary painting it speaks to all my senses. Firstly, the raw surface and immediacy of paint place me in an open internal threshold – I BELIEVE these marks. I trust this work.

In my experience, Jenny Watson, an audacious, brilliant painter, allows first strokes to simply BE. In this space, intention and vulnerability speak deeply to the other, creating their own intoxicating collision of the naive and the masterful.

A woman-self-longing-so-deep that wings spring from the protagonist’s back, speaks directly to my own indescribably intimate, inner worlds of desire. Beyond explanation I feel like I understand this work from my lived experience as a woman. From my earliest memories, my most recurring dream (one aching with longing) is one where I am flying but, mostly, cannot rise (no matter how extreme my exertion) higher than just a metre or two from the surface of the earth. Here, pleasure, fear and extreme frustration exist in equal measures.

An encounter with this work is a gift, connecting me to another woman’s language – mysterious, transcendent, unapologetic, private and exposed. I bow down.


Louise Bourgeois Arched figure

Beyond any other artist on the planet, Louise Bourgeois rocked my world to its foundation when I first encountered her drawings about 20 years ago. Within her oeuvre I recognised a world and a visual language I didn’t know existed. Everything changed for me in that moment. It was an epiphany and more comforting and life-giving than words can describe.

For me, Louise Bourgeois is one of the greatest artists to have ever lived. This stunning work speaks to her core sensibilities. Body meets life meets motherhood meets desire meets death meets domestic meets emotionality meets dreaming meets the evolution of being female meets fierce-as-f***-woman-boss-artist. I bow down.