Friday, March 14, 2008

A Lacework Of Pleasure And Perversity

Del Kathryn Barton (b. 1972) - the whole of everything, 2007-08

'It's the details that entice me first. The lilac acrylic wash that bruises a pair of breasts. The turquoise paint splattered across the hundreds, the thousands, of meticulously marked dots and lines. The stretches of near-white monochrome that signify raw skin within that painstaking and almost painful expanse of throbbing ink. And the eyes: these watch from anxious animal faces, partly shielded from view; from women seemingly of another world. At once haunting and opaque, these staring eyes have sent seasoned writers into skittish reverie as they draw into the fantastical image-world of Sydney artist Del Kathryn Barton.

Standing back from one of Barton's newest paintings, or make myself a space to inhabit, 2007, this response is typical, or so I'm told, of the way most viewers find themselves lured into Barton's ever-swelling fan club. At first, an admiration for the decorative style of the painting as a whole, for Barton's blazing range of brazen colour, and for the 'surface that attempts to impart a quality of energy', as the artist herself calls it. Then stepping closer from a respectful distance, one is struck by the sheer amount of work involved in crafting this other space of life. And then, like moth to flame - or better still, curious Alice to cavernous rabbit hole - the detail-lured spectator is caught in a world of Barton's making.

It can be a very strange world indeed. The women she moulds into being - and they are always women, even when bearing a hefty penis or sprouting a fine sheen of fur - have, for the ten years of Barton's practice, been occasionally lascivious, often enigmatic, at once defiant and fragile. In some series - such as Barton's watercolour, gouache and ink drawings from 2002 - naked women recline, their legs splayed, fingers caressing their orifices, animals nuzzling at their breasts. In other works, like the exquisite dark beauty of 2005, young girls stare out through hand-embroidered frames, replicating so many film stills of women staring wistfully through window panes, their romanticism wrung with pathos. Some of Barton's women take the pose of contemporary catwalk models at their moment of full exposure, staring down at the audience from the runway's edge before they spin around and strut their way backstage; others, such as aranella, 2005, have an air of 1970s-style fashion shoots, all Farrah Fawcett hair and fey hand gestures.

It is not just pop culture quotations that peek through Barton's works; art-historical references equally abound. The folksy pussy cats and hermaphrodite children of the mid-twentieth century outsider artist Henry Darger mingle in Barton's portraits. An economy of inky lines recalls the work of Egon Schiele or Paul Klee, while the contortions and elongations of Barton's bodies echo Kiki Smith. The abstract and often abject eroticism - the sextet of breasts and the truncated body in her sculpture inquire within, 2006, for example, make for a curious lacing of Hans Bellmer and Louise Bourgeois. Even Barton's continual framing of her figures with guardians from nature - with kittens and koalas suckling at teats, with bunnies, Bambis and other ciphers of innocence sourced from personal associations and from particular Native American cultures - reveal a mystical world of symbolism that is as cultivated and cryptic as the film art of Matthew Barney and especially David Lynch.'

From Del Kathryn Barton: Paradox of Ecstasies by Anthony Gardner

Obituary: Lazare Ponticelli

'Lazare Ponticelli, the last French soldier to have endured the horrors of World War I, died at the age of 110 on Wednesday, President Nicolas Sarkozy said.

"Through him, I bow to the millions of 'poilus' who responded with exemplary everyday courage to the call of the invaded homeland," Sarkozy said, using the French word commonly used in France to describe the unshaven men on the front lines.

Sarkozy said there would be a national ceremony in coming days to honor all French soldiers who fought in the Great War, which broke out in 1914 and ended in 1918 and left about 1.4 million French dead and 4.5 million wounded.

The president's statement gave no cause or details of Ponticelli's death, but an official at the president's office said Ponticelli died at his home in Kremlin-Bicêtre, near Paris, on Wednesday morning.'

Strange Meeting

by Wilfred Owen, poet and soldier (March 18, 1893 – November 4, 1918)

It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,-
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

With a thousand pains that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
'Strange friend,' I said, 'here is no cause to mourn.'
'None,' said that other, 'save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled,
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery,
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels,
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.

'I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now....'

(Owen died aged 25 - just one week before the war ended - at the Battle of the Sambre.)