Skip to main content

The National Portrait Gallery is temporarily closed to the public until further notice.

Menu

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

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?!

1 . all these loving bits are from you 2011

Related information

Portrait 42, February - May 2012

Magazine

This issue features Del Kathryn Barton, Renaissance Portraiture in New York, Australian impressionists, Nikki Toole’s Skater project, National Photographic Portrait Prize, Andrew Maccoll & Mick Fanning and more.

Mick Fanning at Snapper Rocks
Mick Fanning at Snapper Rocks
Mick Fanning at Snapper Rocks
Mick Fanning at Snapper Rocks

Beach scene

Magazine article by Andrew Maccoll

Photographer Andrew Maccoll tells the story behind his portrait of dual world champion pro surfer Mick Fanning.

The sisters, 1904
The sisters, 1904
The sisters, 1904
The sisters, 1904

Beguiling impressions

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow

Sarah Engledow is seduced by the portraits and the connections between the artists and their subjects in the exhibition Impressions: Painting light and life.

© National Portrait Gallery 2021
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency