Artist,Illustrator, cartoonist, and swimming tragic. This is how Tarhairedjack a.K.a Jenny Barr describes herself. In our latest visit to her new studio in Gracetown, known locally as The Bay, Jenny revealed some of her art works and future projects.
1971, Canberra. That’s where it all started. But it is now in the Southwest where we can find Jenny immersed in her work and in the ocean. As an artist, Jenny likes to explore different art mediums giving her the freedom and flexibility needed to best address her themes. Despite her apparently rational methods, Jenny’s works abound with irony and amusing humour.
One of our favourite pieces is The Shack that also became your logo. Now you have an original 1975’s beach shack in Gracetown to live and work. Was it a premonition?
Laughing…well you have to put it out there to get it right? The Gracetown shack is my third ‘fibro’ home. There were a few dark years in a stock standard country builders home but now I’m essentially back where I belong. The first shack was in Leichardt, NSW and was an original 1880’s cottage with some make shift editions tacked onto the back. We got kicked out of this house when the rain started dripping down the loungeroom light bulb. The second shack was a 1950’s war widows fibro in White Gum Valley, Western Australia. Which I loved dearly. But the shack of the Tarhairedjack Logo is in fact a beautiful architecturally designed holiday house belonging to family and its located on the remote south coast of Western Australia. You wouldn’t find a piece of mismatching lino there…. but I love the lines of that building.
And the Ocean is your home.
Definitely, the ocean, the water has been a constant in my life. Not only surfing, but swimming. I am an obsessive swimmer. Swimming is about understanding yourself and the human space through movement in a challenging mutable environment.
In 1998 you enrolled the National Art School in Darlinghurst, Sydney to study Painting and Drawing. How important was this to build yourself up as an artist?
It was very important. I wouldn’t be here making art without going to art school. It was very confronting at first to create my own art. But the contact with the teachers, most of whom were well established artists in Sydney, and other students was essential and one of the positive aspects from art school. I also gave up a great job/career by throwing myself into art school so I became committed to the art.
What other positive encounters did you find at art school?
When I was younger I studied Archaeology and History at UWA. But when I went to art school I was older and more mature student. I was finally going back to what I always loved. There were times I felt caught in the middle between my colleagues who were really young, and other older students, particularly women who had kids and with whom I became also very close. This diversity was definitely a very enriching experience.
Always in a progressive way or did you find any rigidity or restrictions in the teaching methods?
Although it was a school specialised in Drawing, they would offer and facilitate the access to different art mediums, and the freedom to explore those. From Photography, Printmaking to Painting and Sculpture. Also the opportunity to research the art traditions before you, and the discipline, the emphasis to practice, to keep working. This was really important to build up your own aesthetic language.
Certainly this explains the diversity of media that you use in your work from Screen Printing to Digital Sketch. Yet Drawing is constant.
Drawing has been a constant in my life and my work: it is a base, a departure point for any idea. Drawing is fast, and I think fast. Painting is a slow process, specially when you paint with oils. Also, Painting seems to become more about my own physical space: the human mark in the space, in the world. Painting is hard. And drawing was easier with children than painting.
“Drawing has been constant in my life and my work: it is the base, a departure point for any idea.”
And how do you address that physical matter within your subjects?
With the same principle. I like to tackle my subjects with that same sense of space. For example, the space of the landscape and the feeling of the landscape they coexist. It is about how it feels, as much as how does it look.
In this quote, the artist William Kentridge says “Making art for me is embodying an idea into their physical form (…)”. When you think about it, how would you define a work of art?
A work of art is something that has been extracted from the world by the artist, and then in return it makes you see the world differently. It is an exchange relationship – a bit like osmosis.
This idea of explaining an art work.. Does it really have to have an explanation? The unknown does not captivate the viewer?
Agnes Martin said once that “From music they want pure emotion; from art they demand explanation”. I agree, and I don’t think it has to have an explanation. Although in art school, you do have to present and explain your work and thats good for you to learn.
We can see you’ve been busy working in new series of pieces. Do you have any projects on the horizon that you can tell us about?
Yes. This is The Swimming Hole which is the starting point for a new series of work which was shown during Margaret River Open Studios 2019. And in March 2020 I will be showing a collection from the After much talk digital drawings series at the new HEART space in Margaret River.
The Swimming Hole looks intriguing and the larger scale emphasises the depth of the theme.
The Swimming Hole is a story, a memory from childhood and I finally painted about it. I wanted to step off from the memories image and step out into a new space or reality, recreating the wishfullness i also remembered feeling. In here in particular, I was intrigued about what we could experience if we went through that place (hole), and again the feeling of the water and what it had in it. Creating an interaction with the viewer, and at the same time the idea of creating something beautiful.
When we look at your digital sketches series After Much Talk The Swell Arrived, where your surf shack is taken over by the elements, they present a dynamism and versatility different from your cartoons. Is there a different approach between one and the other?
Yep. The cartoons focus on a one take image with simple lines to try and capture the dynamics of the gag. The drawings are my attempts to use colour in a way I’m unfamiliar with, the colours are dictated by the house and the elements and focus on the story and the flow of the line work. In the cartoons I get rid of all unnecessary lines. With the drawings I leave a lot of them in and work on them for days and days. But the cartoons are harder!
On the other hand your cartoons present such a spontaneity, that immediacy mentioned before about your drawing method, with a great twist: humour.
Thanks! They aren’t actually spontaneous, I practice the composition and the gesture the line with an ink brush again and again , until I get one “right”. There’s lots of scrumpled paper involved.
Margaret River is home for good wine and food, good surf and trails, good writers and art?
The idea of art in Margaret River is diverse even though it is a small country town in a remote coastal region. But I think this gives you the opportunity to use the isolation to create and it entices so many artists from musicians, writers, makers to fine art artists. That’s why I think it is the right place for me. The isolation is good to process ideas. And it is great to explore an alternative artistic community out of the “art circles” – I find them in the ocean swimming and surfing. Or at playgroup!
Margaret River Region Open Studios (MRROS) is a major art event that happens every year in the southwest region. How important is it to the artistic community and WA art?
MRROS it is very important. As I said before, there are a lot of artists here and this is an opportunity to show their work, to share their stories and artistic journeys with the community. The event facilitates a healthy interaction between all these artists in a very humble way. The two weeks brings artists appreciators from Western Australia and over East, and helps to educate a whole younger and older community. It is not meant to be an exhibition space, but more about the studio life of an artist, where and how they work. The ethos is about sharing.
It was the second time that you participated in the event?
Yes, it was. I was looking forward to share my new studio here in Gracetown and show what I’ve been doing lately, and to meet people, talk drawing and to hear their art adventures. We had a great number of visitors coming in not only from the region, but from Perth and other places.
Any other projects that you’re working on at the moment?
At the moment I’m putting more of the digital sketches in the After much talk series together for a solo exhibition next year. It will be in March 2020 at the new HEART space in Margaret River.
Thank you Jenny.