Del Kathryn Barton is one of Australia's most popular artists and painters. Having won the prestigious Archibald award twice, the painter is best known for her whimsical depictions of people and animals. Her environments are created using sequins, markers, gouache and glitter.Attending the College of Fine Arts at the University of NSW in Sydney, Del Kathryn's works are held in the collections of the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney, the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra and the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, among others. We are fortunate to speak to Del Kathryn, through an intimate interview by Eva Galambos.
Describe your current occupation?I am a fine artist living and working in Sydney.
How did you become an artist? And did you know that you always wanted to be an artist?I drew obsessively as a child and from my earliest memories have only ever wanted and dreamed about pursuing a life as an artist.
Did your childhood impact your career choice? And if so, how?Growing up very freely on a fairly remote, enormous bush-block, an unconventional childhood did inform and strengthen my immersion in an imaginary world. This allowed me to commit more fully (I believe) to life choices that were idealistic, truthful and passionate; ones not restrained by realism and more conservative modalities.
When and how did you get your first ‘big break'?When I was 21 (my first year out of art school) I had a large painting selected to hang in the Sulman Art Prize at the AGNSW. Seeing my work hang in an art museum of this caliber, juxtaposed with mid-career and late-career Australian artist was a paradigm shift for me. This experience fueled a feeling in me of tremendous possibility and potentiality. Moreover when I was about 25 years old, the wonderful Ray Hughes offered to represent me, this was truly a dream come true and my launch pad into the Australian commercial art world.
What has been your greatest career achievement to date? And favourite exhibitions?I think my three proudest exhibiting moments have been “Optimism” at GOMA, “Wilderness” at AGNSW and the Adelaide Biennial at AGSA.
Who and what influences your creativity most?I am an innately “inspired” person, finding stimulus from everything and everyone around me. If anything, the challenge for me is to attempt to distill a kind of over-activity that happens to my brain. The sanctity, aloneness and focus of a disciplined studio life suits me well. I kind of hide away from the world each day!
What does the word 'creativity' mean to you?The “idea” of creativity for me is akin the essence of life, that mysterious life-giving force that underpins all life… Are you inspired by any other artists, past or present? And why do they inspire you? I am constantly inspired by SO much art across all histories and disciplines. Art is my religion. I have enduring art loves like the great Louise Bourgeois and then I get obsessed with new loves - at the moment I am insanely in love with the work of Gert and Uwe Tobias; their decorative motifs drawing from traditional folk art and executed with traditional wood-block techniques, then layered with darker imagery that almost takes you by surprise is mind-blowing!
Do you enjoy collaborations? What have been some of your most interesting collaboration ventures?I have had the privilege of collaborating with some extraordinary creatives over the years and it is an experience that I enjoy more and more. For the past two years I have been collaborating with a large team on the creation of an animated film adapted from the Oscar Wilde’s “The nightingale and the rose”. It has been a very challenging and rewarding project, we are right on the cusp of finishing it!
Using Romance Was Born as an example, how important is supporting home-grown industry to you – whether it be in the art or fashion industry?I always try to support local retail industries when I can, there is so much talent here in Australia and we all need to do all that we can to help it flourish!
What does style mean to you?Style (for me) is an innate thing and can encompass all aspects of your life. Style is a sensibility, reflecting, informing and expressing who you are. Style is a personal adventure!
How would you describe your fashion aesthetic?
Eclectic, as I get older I am more attracted to beautiful classic tailored pieces and a lot of black and white, but then I will lash out with a crazy colour or print. I like statement shoes increasingly.
Which fashion designers do you love?My great fashion love at the moment is Chloé especially the slouchy trousers and beautiful silk shirts! AMAZING!
What are your thoughts about social media?I don’t really engage too much with social media, but in my limited perception it does seem to play an increasingly vital role particularly in young people’s lives. I do enjoy Instagram, I have a private account with only 2 followers (my son and my partner) but I follow about 600 accounts (mostly art galleries and artists across the world) and thoroughly enjoy it, its recreation, relaxation and inspiration for me.
How do you juggle raising a young family and working?This a constant negotiation, juggle (read chaos) and always the source of ALOT of stress! I have given up on the battle to find a work-life balance, it's actually impossible and accepting this has been liberating! More than anything I feel just so blessed to have both experiences, my beautiful children who I live for and a job that means everything to me!
What would be your best advice to offer point of difference to other artists starting their own careers?Understand immediately that it is a constantly challenging road, at every point, at every stage. When things are at their toughest try always to draw energy, joy and clarity from the creative process and the work. Total commitment, dogged perseverance and emotional resilience are vital. It’s an all or nothing kind of life/vocation, which is equally electrifying and devastating. Because of the implicitly personal nature of being a creative the stakes are very high; this is both life-affirming and also at times unbelievably challenging.
If you could go back and start your career again, would you do anything differently?No.
What is next? Where do you hope to be in 10 years from now and what will you be doing?
That’s a hard question, mostly I just hope to be healthy and happy and still making work with the same intensity and commitment I have now, perhaps it will be easier because my children will be more independent by then!