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Observation point

by Del Kathryn Barton, 1 February 2012

Del Kathryn Barton discusses ideas of portraiture through two of her own artworks.

A is for ... (beauty before Beauty), 2006
A is for ... (beauty before Beauty), 2006

Portraiture is something that I am very passionate about. For me, in some ways, it operates as a periodically imposed discipline – tough, always illuminating technical weaknesses and lazy lookingness.

That said, I think the boundaries of portraiture and figuration become blurred at times (in an entirely unproblematic way) within my practice. For this reason I have selected two images for Observation Point. A is for …… (beauty before Beauty) feels like an early work now, but I have chosen it because it is the first painting I made in which I actively pursued likeness and direct representation. It is a large painting, a portrait of my baby daughter Arella when she was about six months old. It is also the only painting that I have truly regretted selling. It is work that is very close to my mummy heart! Among other ruminations, this work is an attempt to describe that kind of unfathomable knowingness and otherness that very little people have. Connected to this is the almost shocking lack of self-consciousness that such tiny beings seem to have. Living in the presence of this as a mother was revelatory, something of the greatest beauty, where nothing on the surface of the body is constructed or considered, just pure being, somehow?

At the other end of the spectrum, the work all these loving bits are from you falls more loosely within the genre of portraiture and yet with my works on paper I am often left feeling that they communicate the subterraneous energies of my inner life in a potentially more honest way than the highly embellished paintings do. I suppose that is partially the magic of drawing – it is more in the moment, tougher, quickened with more pulse, less fuss. Am I able also to make a distinction here between works that become portraits because they are deeply self-referential without being autobiographical? Or is that just splitting hairs?!