Kym Barrett
  home     galleries    curriculum vitae    news & text    contacts    mailing list    copyright   

FLOOR TALK, Bundaberg Arts Centre, 'in search of the Golden Thread', December 2008

I was born in Bundaberg over 50 years ago… so this city has a special place in my heart.

I remember my first life drawing class. It was 36 years ago, with Mervyn Moriarty (who started Flying Arts in Queensland) and it was in Bundaberg and the person who took me there was my Kepnock art teacher, Jenny McDuff! It was an interesting experience for a 16 year old. But during that year, Jenny sowed a seed. The Love of art and the creative process. I decided to be an art teacher myself.

I studied Fine Arts at the Brisbane College of Art for 3 years, with well –known artists David Paulsen, Ian Smith and John Rigby among others, and after another year became a high school art teacher. I taught for 5 years fulltime, then while my children were growing up I did casual teaching in Gympie until 2006 when our youngest child left home for uni. I still do relief teaching to help finance the painting habit.

Well, now the seed could really begin to grow! During those 25 years of parenting, my creative urges had been sort-of fulfilled through projects almost always related to my three children … printing tshirts, posters etc, all those little and big jobs an art teacher Mum gets asked to do. I enjoyed doing some more regular life drawing at the Gympie Gallery and built up a huge collection of dusty drawings under the bed! And they’re still there!

All that time, I see now, I was absorbing visual information, gathering ideas, looking at shapes, colours, lines, textures, compositions, contrasts, patterns….

About twenty years ago, I began to gather other ideas, searching for some understanding of those big hard philosophical questions, (why are we here, who am I, what’s my purpose)… and trying to find some personal and universal wisdom. I studied comparative religion, the Enneagram, some psychology. I’ve settled on some reasonable answers and a philosophy that I live by. A compassionate philosophy, where everything has meaning and purpose. And this informs all my art work.

After my daughter left home in 2006, the seed grew into the exhibition A LITTLE BIT CHEEKY! I could use some of those dusty under-the-bed drawings!! My Dad, Don and I showed our work together – my work was strongly coloured, decorative, figurative, influenced by Matisse in style and philosophy and Dad’s beautiful sensual sculptures echoed the feminine lines. It was a wonderful shared experience for both of us! And we’ve just shown together again at Gympie Regional Gallery in November.

I wanted somehow to combine my personal search for understanding, with the search for MY way in painting… which, I think really, is the same thing. Somehow in finding my way in painting, I am finding my way in a personal sense. I’m understanding more about myself. I’m becoming more ME, who I’m supposed to be.

In the last couple of years, I’ve researched artists, workshopped on technical processes, gathered conceptual ideas. I’ve looked at artists’ work in galleries, on the internet, made lots of notes and asked myself lots of questions. Why do these colours appeal, why do those shapes attract me? What is it that I want to say? How do I want to do it? … Lots of analysis to try to clarify my ideas and my process. I want to be honest in my approach and style. I’m still searching, still asking the questions. Trying to find focus.

So…. to the birth of this, my first solo exhibition. It’s been incubating for a very long time!

I have returned to the city of my birth, so I think this is most appropriate.
And it is also fitting that Jenny McDuff, who planted the seed in the first place, now owns the first piece in this series, a little installation, The Golden Thread of Faith, about the seed of possibility, growing into a great tree.

And to have family and some old friends here to share too, is fantastic.
I started preparing for this exhibition in 2006, and have pretty much used up every room in the house storing all the pieces… including those dustmite-infested ones that are still under the bed!!

Michael Leunig, the Australian armchair philosopher and cartoonist said:

‘I’m looking for life’s precious little golden thread …
… I want to just see it, I want to smile at it. I want to tell life’s precious little golden thread that I love it. That’s all I want.’

I actually found this Leunig quote some time after I thought of ‘The Golden Thread’ title. And it spoke of just what I was after. The works here are expressions of my personal search for life’s ‘golden thread’: its beauty and the deeper meaning of experiences. Through the landscapes and the abstracts, it’s the essence of things that I want to express: the treasure, the precious golden thread behind the physical appearance.

This Golden Thread, I believe, invisibly weaves through all things, connecting everything.

Matisse said ‘There is an inherent truth which must be disengaged from the outward appearance of the object to be represented. This is the only truth that matters…’

Many of the pieces in this show were inspired by memories of special shared times searching for ‘treasures’ amongst rocks, sand and water at Coolum Beach with my daughter. Eg Sacred Space It wasn’t just the cowrie shells that were the treasure; it was the whole simple but meaningful experience. This was my personal experience, but my intention is to present a universal meaning or truth, one that can appeal to everyone’s experience. (maybe Pearls of wisdom?)

The titles of my work often make some reference to the universal human condition and the path of building character. Like…Three steps forward, two steps back; Even in the Shadows; Treading a New Path, using natural forms like rocks, trees, flowers symbolically, metaphorically.

In the end, I am a painter who makes objects. My main aim is to create works of aesthetic beauty that hopefully other people will enjoy… But I am also trying to inspire some reflection beyond the visual. So, I hope you can find a connection which has some personal meaning for you. If you look at the work together with its title and the labels, you might be able to make the connection for yourself according to your own experience. If you choose to judge the works only on their visual merit, then that’s fine.

You may be interested to know the process of making the work. I love the process of working through the (sometimes) many layers from beginning to end, and unfortunately I often have trouble deciding when to finish. Just ask my friends and family!! I’m always turning the painting round to check the composition, over and over. Good composition, good design is very important to me.

I’ve done lots of experimenting with different media and combinations and my preference is for mixed media and collage. I often start by gluing Japanese unryushi (paper) directly onto the canvas. It’s got a beautiful dry thready texture. Then maybe a random pouring or painting with a large brush … or drawing freely with charcoal. Frank Hodgkinson calls it ‘a mindless doodle’. Then, sometimes with an image in mind or in a photograph or a drawing, I’ll add more acrylics, glazes, charcoal, maybe text and collage responding to the original marks. Sometimes I use gold leaf to give a sense of the sacred.

At other times the work is purely intuitive, without a direct reference, where the process itself leads me to make decisions about what to put where. It’s interesting to see how the work evolves. All those years of collecting the visual information in the subconscious now let loose!!
The titles come last and usually just pop into my head without too much thought.

Natural forms – their honesty, timelessness and interconnectedness – are what I like to paint. Sometimes pieces are more figurative, like Sacred Space, at other times more abstract, like the series Seasons of me