“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom…You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough”. William Blake, Proverbs of Hell.

Full Disclosure; Writing about Australian artist, Del Kathryn Barton, is like trying to describe the feeling of rapture to a four year old. She’s an idol of mine and I feel like I need to prostrate myself before setting a single word down. I could tell you all about her accolades which include winning the Archibald Prize – twice. We could go into the hum of feminist rhetoric that surrounds her work and discuss the value of “craft” throughout art history, or feminine sexuality or even just the complex role of being a mother and a working artist. There’s some finger licking controversy in here too. Why all the boobs and orifices? Is she “just” an illustrator high on an orgy of decoration? Should the representation of children in art be censored within the dumb drunk public space of modern culture? Instead though, I’m taking a page out of Del Kathryn’s book and flying by the seat of sincerity, hoping that you get to find your own sweet experience amongst these incredible works.

Three reasons why I love Del Kathryn Barton;

1. That heart-in-throat beauty of vulnerability. Those water stained eyes that leave you breaking. That human in the raw nudity – inhabited by this life’s pressuring wild. We the animals, held stark against the odds. It’s not just the fragility of her subjects depicted but also Del Kathryn in her process of making. Using a multitude of media she describes the fine pen lines of faces as being the most terrifying. It’s that dangerous space where one permanent line holds the personality of a subject and the honesty and integrity of it’s maker.

2. Life enamors Life. There’s a reciprocal theme that imbues many of Del Kathryn’s pieces. Almost akin to Frida Kahlo’s works, the subject is often bio-morphically fused with the lush fauna, vines, tendrils, tubes and animals that surround. Like totemic mothers, the question of who is giving and who is receiving becomes blurred. Once everything has settled, all you’re left with is connection. Perhaps a theme we need more of.

3. The supernova. Anxiety, sensitivity and introversion are not alien to Del Kathryn but nor are they monsters.  Part of her handwriting is the sheer volume, saturation, electricity and pulsating excess that to Del Kathryn reaches a point of no return and distills into the minimal. She wants her work to be “teetering on the edge of completeness, still in a state of rawness but built up to a point of saturation . . . anything more would destroy it”. To me, it’s simply about experience. All of us have found ourselves thrown headfirst into this world of lights, sounds, colours, kinetics, pain, wounding, love. . . where if we’re lucky it’ll bubble up and burst and explode inside into wonderous, beautiful rapture. We could try and list thousands of words to capture it, yet never quite grasp it in our hands. Images can. Del Kathryn’s works are of the type, that explain those things that words cannot.


See more of Del Kathryn’s work here at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery.
Find out more about her book – A telling of Oscar Wilde’s classic,”The Nightingale and the Rose” – here.


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