There's an unappealing Bonds campaign on at the moment. It adds one very slightly rude word to an underwear campaign that feels almost exactly the same as every crass underwear ad campaign that's gone before it. Very barely suggestive, and very much the same as before. Two time Archibald winner Del Kathryn Barton's pressure to the need, by contrast, is full of explicit penises, vaginas and quite a lot of thorn-like boobs. But there is absolutely nothing same-y about her work.
Every image she makes of the body seems to look at it obliquely. But her focus is on the strangeness, not the alienness of the human form. This is most obvious in the opening ink and watercolour images. Each combines strange spaces with a mindscape of objects, or very naked human figure studies. Barton's work is often compared to Egon Schiele, and when she's drawing in delicate lines that similarity is pretty obvious. But here, her figure workseems much closer to Aubrey Beardsley's Lysistrata, with wonderful glimpses of Chrissie Abbott as parts become windows into another space.
In the next room her colour work is simply magic. In the smaller portraits the colours balance from afar, like Chagall or Kandinsky. But these combinations are every bit her own, her paints making her cascades of colours hues shimmer like the sheen of beetles' wings. to hold 4 makes its serious face out of the translucent colours of rhubarb, painted china and Smarties.
Her bigger canvases are even more spectacular, their figures' eyes bird-like and perceptive, or glazed over like untenably thin stained glass. but my dreams seems to feature an enormous and literal beehive of black feathery hair. Pulsing arteries sprout out the top, combining with a three quarter profile for a pursed stare that gives it the feel of a Frida Kahlo self portrait. the human dress sits underneath the weight of her feathery hair as though this brain is unpleasant, dominant and powerful, while of pollen makes a ruff from colourful leaves, sprouting at the collar like a much the more interesting cousin of Jack in the Green.
Even with a modern phone Roslyn Oxley9 can be a little complicated to find, the gallery almost hidden by tiny Soudan Lane's sheer rock face. But Barton's stunning colours make this mini adventure in urban orienteering well worth the effort.
Roslyn Oxley 9 is open 10-6 Tuesday to Friday, 11-6 on Saturdays. Image: Del Kathryn Barton, pressure to the need, 2013, Installation view at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney. Image courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney. Photo: Jessica Maurer.