The Highway is a Disco: Del Kathryn Barton’s largest exhibition ever
Of the hundreds of the paintings Del Kathryn Barton has completed in her career, there is one in particular which is very close to her heart. Her 2015 The Highway is a Disco depicts a fierce female protagonist riding a blue bunny rabbit through the universe. According to Barton, "We live in a society that puts a lot of emphasis on coupling and meeting 'the one.' The Highway is a Disco celebrates the capacity of women to find pleasure and wholeness alone. It's about stepping out into the world with courage and strength... it's sort of my greatest vision for what I hoped my life might be."
You get the feeling from the quavering emotion in her voice that this female warrior archetype is steeped in meaning, a source of inner strength and an allegory that is deeply interwoven with her personal narrative. This inner strength has been tested recently, as Barton prepares to present her largest solo exhibition to date at the National Gallery of Victoria, she is also grieving the loss of her mother to pancreatic cancer just a few weeks ago.
The acclaimed Sydney-based artist and twice winner of the Archibald Prize will present 150 new and recent works, including the debut of her sculpture at the foot of your love. Comprised of an enormous printed silk handkerchief and a shell carved from Huon pine, the sculpture is reflective of Barton's grief for her late mother. "My mum gave me a great love for fabric. I have memories of being little Del watching her sew and hand stitch in front of the TV. I created the large silk handkerchief to soak up the tears of everyone who has lost a mother, and the shell to represent a washed up, empty home and the fact that she is no longer here."
The exhibition will also feature Barton's acclaimed film RED, where Cate Blanchett plays a mother re-enacting the redback spider's deadly mating ritual, alongside actor Alex Russell, Sydney Dance Comp any's Charmene Yap and Barton's own daughter Arella. "[RED] is a very extreme sensory experience. I wanted to navigate and celebrate the brutal female power that is ultimately life-giving. What is particularly poetic about the Australian red back spider is that the male spider is participatory in his death and gives up his life for his child," Barton explains.
Barton's newest and largest painting to date sing blood-wings sing, features a female-focused reimagining of the 1963 Peter, Paul and Mary coming-of-age song, Puff the Magic Dragon. Barton often listens to the folk tune whilst working in her studio as a symbolic reminder to maintain her childlike curiosity through her artistic practice.
Armed with childlike curiosity, her warrior spirit and self-confessed idealistic nature, Barton ruminates on the visceral layers of human existence, in dazzling technicolour. In her own words, "Creativity actually saved me and I don't know if I'd still be on the planet without it... it's the only thing I can imagine doing."
Del Kathryn Barton: The Highway is a Disco is showing from 17 November 2017 - 12 March 2018. Entry is free. Further information is available from ngv.vic.gov.au
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