Del Kathryn Barton

self and prairie dog waiting for rain, 2001
pencil, crayon, gouache and collage on paper, (two sheets)
111.5 x 76 cm – total sheet size124 x 86.5 cm – framed size
signed, dated and inscribed with title ‘- self and prairie dog waiting for rain – del Kathryn 2001 – ‘ (upper right) and further with title sewn with cotton ‘prairie dog’ (lower left)

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Ray Hughes Gallery, Sydney
Acquired from the above in 2001

Drawings from California, Ray Hughes Gallery, Sydney, 2001
ANXIETY: the drawn image, Ivan Dougherty Gallery, Sydney, 23 August - 22 September 2001 (curator Michael Esson)

The practice of drawing is woven throughout Del Kathryn Barton’s life. Growing up in the lower Blue Mountains her childhood was imbued with the magic of her bush surrounds. She drew fairies, mystical creatures and imagined universes, taking inspiration from the creeks, trees and animals around her. As a young adult, her practice developed to be more figurative, focusing on her own self-portrait. From 2000- 2001, Barton undertook an artist in residency program in San Francisco. A watershed moment for her practice, she was exposed to the work of Louis Bourgeois and Kiki Smith; artists whose work continue to inspire her today.  

Drawings from this period offer an unflinching sense of fragility and self-reflection. Striped bear, single lines of grey-lead constitute the central figure whose blackened almond shaped eyes are impenetrable to the viewer.  self and prairie dog waiting for rain is a clear example of this early moment in Barton’s artistic development. Evoking an Egon Schiele-like sexual and personal vulnerability, Barton’s visual language allows her to explore her own inner fantasies and dreams. While being inwardly focused, these images allow the viewer a glimpse into the artist’s private universe that is intimate, sensual and anchored in the surreal. 

Barton’s earliest surviving drawings date to the mid-1990s, as a fire in the family home in 1994 destroyed all her earliest works. Despite it’s usual associations to preparatory sketches, drawing is a central facet of Barton’s practice and she continues to draw everyday. As the artists describes: ‘a show wouldn’t be complete without at least one drawing.’ 

  • self and prairie dog waiting for rain

Image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

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One of Australia’s most popular contemporary artists, Del Kathryn Barton is best known for her distinctive style of painting with linear, exaggerated figures and a psychedelic palette. Born in Sydney in 1972, Barton began exhibiting in 1991 and developed a reputation as a skilled draughtswoman with a particular knack for both human and animal portraiture. She has since expanded her practice to installations, textiles, printmaking and short films, across which she has explored sexuality, motherhood, and nature.

As Dr Nicola Teffer wrote on Barton ahead of Know My Name, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (2020-21): “Barton’s experience of motherhood had a profound impact on her art. The fecund energy of pregnancy and intense emotions of maternity fed into personal and autobiographical imagery that for Barton was a way of understanding her own feelings about love, relationships and the connection with others.”

Barton has twice won the Archibald Prize, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney: first, with a self-portrait reflecting on motherhood, You are what is most beautiful about me, a self-portrait with Kell and Arella (2008); and, second, with a portrait of actor Hugo Weaving, hugo (2013).

In 2012, Barton held a major solo exhibition inspired by an Oscar Wilde story, The Nightingale and the Rose, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, which was restaged and toured across Australia (2012-19). Off the back of this exhibition, she produced into an acclaimed 2015 short film which was released at major film festivals around the world. In 2017, Barton received a major survey, The highway is a disco, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, that reflected upon the themes of motherhood, womanhood and death in a collection of paintings and installations.