Important Fine Art + Indigenous Art
29 November 2017


born 1972

watercolour, gouache, ink, metallic and synthetic polymer paint on paper with satin and cotton border

245.0 x 116.0 cm (irregular)

signed, dated and inscribed with title lower centre: under here I am already / del kathryn barton 2006

$40,000 – 60,000
Sold for $48,800 (inc. BP) in Auction 52 - 29 November 2017, Melbourne

Kaliman Gallery, Sydney (label attached verso)
Private collection, Melbourne

Catalogue text

Awarded the prestigious Archibald Prize in 2008 for You are what is most beautiful about me, a tender self-portrait with her two children Kell and Arella, and again in 2013 for her pensive portrayal of actor Hugo Weaving, Del Kathryn Barton is undoubtedly one of the most critically acclaimed, eagerly sought-after figures in Australian contemporary art. Indeed, such is the extraordinary success of her exuberant signature style that she has also been invited to collaborate on several occasions with innovative fashion label, Romance Was Born, and in 2010, was commissioned by publishing house Art and Australia to create a series of works reimagining Oscar Wilde’s poignant tale, The Nightingale and the Rose. Moreover, in 2012 Barton joined forces with Australian film-maker Brendan Fletcher to translate her Nightingale works into film and in 2016, the duo won an Australian Directors Guild Award for Best Direction in an Animation for their hauntingly beautiful short animated feature of the same name.

Of all Barton’s extraordinary achievements across a diverse range of media, however, undoubtedly it is her richly embellished paintings of women – exemplified superbly by lot 40 and under here I am already, 2006 – for which she arguably remains best known. Invoking a lavish, compulsive beauty in their infinite detail, these composite portraits occupy an abundant natural realm full of fear and wonder, of mysteries and unexpected moments of enlightenment. Significantly, there is always the underlying suggestion of flux or metamorphosis – forms change, and humans or animals undergo transformation such as the female subject here who, in a manner reminiscent of water nymphs populating the literature of Ovid and his artistic heirs, appears to have grown a fish-like web between the fingers of her right hand. With its allusions to the imaginary, naïve world of children and fantasy, the enchanted domain that Barton evokes undeniably refers to the artist’s own ‘magical’ experiences as a child exploring the bushland amidst the foothills of the Blue Mountains, near her home at Kurrajong. Yet while Barton roamed an actual wilderness however, notably here she immortalises the more complex, bewitching domain of the subconscious, seeing forests as ‘… a way to describe the inner landscape – that is not of this world’.1 As she illuminates, works such as under here I am already may be understood as fictions based on the narrative of inner worlds, with the fastidious surface treatment ‘… something about surface subterfuge, the anxiety that sits beneath the surface – how we lie with the surface of our bodies … which in turn relates to the children who are less able to do this I think … all my work connects to aspects of the self, of myself that I am most uncomfortable with’.2 Bearing a disconcerting fluidity between real and imaginary, representation and subjectivity, indeed such scenes of enchantment remain deliberately enigmatic – like fragments of fairytale or myth whose entirety has not yet been revealed and whose full meaning probably never will. As Julie Ewington elaborates, ‘Everything in these mythic universes is already significant, though not always to the uninitiated … it is as if the paintings are manifestations of a narrative which one must not only learn, but earn’.3

1. Barton cited in Ewington, J., Del Kathryn Barton, Piper Press, New South Wales, 2014, p. 31
2. Barton cited in King, N., ‘compulsive beauty: del kathryn barton’s composite portraits’ in del kathryn barton: thankyou for loving me, exhibition catalogue, Karen Woodbury Gallery, Melbourne, 7 September – 1 October 2005, n.p.
3. op.cit., p. 53