A strong love of color and the beauty of her native Australia is what inspires Barbara Bateman to create such unique, vibrant paintings. Bateman studied arts and education, receiving a Diploma of Fine Arts from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, a Bachelor of Education from Melbourne University, and a Graduate Diploma in Museum Studies from Victoria College. She then taught Visual Arts for 23 years, acting as the Head of Art at Billanook College, the Heads of Visual Arts at the Tintern Anglican Girls Grammar School, and the Head of Visual Arts at the Huntingtowntower School before retiring to focus on her art career full time.
She now works from two different studios, using the colors and movements of the Australian bush to paint beautiful, dynamic pictures. “From a young age, I always drew and painted my country environment. The love of the natural environment and its sustainability is my greatest passion,” says the artist. She belongs to a number of environmental groups. With a strong dedication to preserving the natural world, Barbara hopes that her paintings of the beautiful Australian busy that surrounds her will lead to greater appreciation by the public of nature’s beauty, and encourage others to join in the movement to protect the Earth.
Equally inspired by the Western artistic landscape tradition from the 18th century onward, indigenous art, and modernist painters, Barbara’s paintings exhibit a wide range of skills and understanding, incorporating different uses of color, line, and shape. “Manet once said, ‘There are no lines in nature, only areas of color against each other.'” Barbara definitely takes this advice to heart, as her paintings appear to be different groupings of colors with no outlines, giving freedom and movement to each piece.
We asked Barbara some questions about her art and her practice to share with our readers. We hope you enjoy this insight into the mind of the artist as much as we did!
Any particular artistic traditions or movements that influence you?
I am strongly influenced by the Western Landscape tradition in my practice! Romanticism and the need to be overwhelmed by the landscape define my work. I am not interested in painting the sublime, larger landscapes of mountain ranges and forests as the Romantics were. I am more interested in the process of being self-absorbed with the tones or moods of my paintings. Each takes on unique characteristics as part of a constant struggle to capture the spirit of the place I inhabit.
The Impressionists and Cezanne and the en plein air tradition are also a strong influence on my work. I work outside, encompassed by the bush, as the Impressionists and Cezanne did. I want to experience an organic process by which the eye directs itself to absorb the space according to its intelligence rather than a representational view of what is seen.
You often mention the influence of Australian art on your work. Could you explain that a little more?
In addition to influence from more universal movements, aboriginal Australian art inspires me. I am very interested in works by indigenous artists, especially those of the Utopia region, in particular, Emily Kngwarreye. While abstract in style, her paintings respond to the land and the spiritual forces which are imbued in it: the contours, the vegetation, the parched earth, climate and the shapes and patterns of trees and plants. Other Australian Artists who influenced me are Arthur Boyd and Fred Williams, particularly in their use of color and pictorial space.
Color plays a dominant role in your own works. How do you feel about color and its presence in your art?
Color dominates all my paintings. Color for me conveys various human states and celebrates passages of time that are both specific and enduring. It may be a specific moment of the day or a general impression of the day. Color expresses sensation and what lies beneath the surface. It is not the obvious color, but the searching and burrowing of color that reflects my responses to what I see.
The depiction of light does this as well. I spend many hours collecting leaves, bark, vegetation, flowers and grasses from the bush where I work; Then I complete color swatches recording those colors and use them as the palette for my paintings. Each painting consists of a triad of colors, either two warm and one cool color or two cool colors and one warm color, e.g., orange, cadmium yellow or yellow ochre and cerulean blue.
“It is this discovery of unique colors that evolve throughout the process of making the painting that I enjoy most of all!”
Can you talk about your two studio spaces? What does each space provide you that the other does not?
My main studio is on the Great Ocean Road at Cathedral Rock. My unique vision of the Australian bush landscape has developed over 50 years where I paint what is familiar. The second Studio is in Melbourne, which is where I finish most of the paintings. Thousands of people pass along the Great Ocean Road each week but may not have fully observed the magnificent beauty of the Otway’s.
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Can you tell us more about your involvement with environmental groups and how this relates to your art?
I live and care for the Otway forest around me and do everything to preserve that environment. I belong to a group called Angair which endeavors to educate and conduct flora and fauna tours.
What do you hope your viewers will take away from your paintings?
My paintings are more or less about painting, about how the canvas develops. The very act of painting brings together the color, tone, shape, and texture in my works. The elements link together, promoting a sense of fluidity, process and construction. The formal qualities advance and recede together. I follow multiple pathways over, across, through, in, and around the spaces, allowing equal weight to the object and its background. I aim to create the whole image at once.
“My work is about intimacy and closeness, about standing very near to life, embracing the world around me with an intense scrutiny.”
The bush or forest is my primary subject matter. The discovery is both outer and inner; outer in the sense that people may see different colors, shapes and spaces not noticed by them before, and inward in the sense that my paintings express my personal experiences, memories, and emotions. One work might show the gorgeous eucalyptus and acacias while also showing my life’s journey at Cathedral Rock. Often the shallow pictorial space of my canvases provides a world of abstract retinal pleasure, where the subject becomes synonymous with the composition and these qualities demonstrate my distinctive style.
My artwork is personal in nature, boldly independent, and full of rich color and visual beauty. I encourage the viewer to look closely and discover more of what is there. The viewer has the opportunity to gain a new appreciation of the forest landscape. I want the viewer to realize that these paintings are works of the human hand and heart.
I hope that my viewers stand in front of my paintings, letting them affect their heart and say, “This is wonderful.”
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