John and Kim Barter are...
a) Daylesford artists
e) Really nice people.
Right, John and Kim Barter, Stockroom artists. Pic: Megan Spencer
And so is their work! John loves his robots, Daleks, vehicles.. His prints and sculptures never fail to get reactions – and good ones! – from everyone who sees them.
Often made from found objects and discarded materials - and including images of 'the familiar’ reworked inside John’s perspective - they always make people stop in their tracks, and reveal the kind of joy that comes from rediscovering something wonderful that has faded from memory.
Kim’s work is equally as strong and gifted; her prints and paintings are perhaps more internal.. Meanderings inside her imagination where she asks ‘what’s possible’ and ‘what’s noteworthy about the world?’ Her paintings also reflect musings about beauty – and how the natural and human-made intersect. She loves to scribble, and also makes sculptures.
Both their work is distinct, and distinctly handmade, and lays somewhere between pop and fine art. John is also about to exhibit 27 brand new works, inspired by a camping trip to Flinders Ranges (near Wilpena Pound), about to open at Stockroom February 19.
Kim and John's artists’ finger-prints are also proudly visible on the work, in the best possible way. ‘Someone made this’.. and loved doing it.
In person John and Kim are shy, generous, and quietly engaged with the world. Now it’s your turn now to meet them, online.
Kim Barter: Someone once said (who knows me quite well), “you are your work…”
My work is colourful and and quite spontaneous (intuitive), depending on my emotional state at the time (gawd!) And it reflects my constant state of curiosity in and with the world. Language is often not appropriate for me, I do like pictures.
Left, New work by John Barter, for show 'Pul-E-Tops'.
John Barter: I like to think my work is playful, when I make things I am just playing anyway so I hope this comes out in my work.
SR: How long have you been an artist for? And did anything in particular inspire you to become one?
Kim: I have been a practising artist for half of my life now (which makes me sound REALLY OLD) and it has always given me great comfort in our often troubled world.
I went to art school in country NSW (late 80s) and I loved it. I finally met a whole bunch of creative thinkers and philosophers, and had great teachers/mentors that loved discussion. Creative freedom sounds weird I know, but remember, I am a shy country girl!
John: I was a chef for many years. I always did some sort of artwork. Mostly it was photography in the 1960s, and I started doing some sculptures after I met Kim.
Kim was studying art Wagga University and then teaching. I was still cooking but we decided to quit our jobs and restore an old 1870s hotel and make it into a guesthouse. This happened in the early 90s. The old building also had a shopfront from 1930 which Kim used as her art studio and we opened the studio each Christmas and sold artworks with a few of our friends. This went well and was more fun than the guesthouse.
Above, 'Red Cow' by Kim Barter
So after 7 years of running the it we decided to sell and move to Daylesford to just make our artworks and enjoy a smaller town. What was the question again..?! Arr yes, my Dad loved drawing and making small foxes from the little bits of silver foil in his cigarette boxes. He also had a great sense of humour.
SR: What inspires your work?
Kim: Everything inspires me! From the little tracks that a grub makes, to the amazing edge(s) of landscape.
It is usually the beauty of the natural world that takes my breath away and maybe this is where I head to as a release from the constant push and pull of everyday life.
SR: What's the best thing that has ever been said to you about your work?
Kim: “Thank you, your work gives me great joy…” Gawd! That is very special.
John: I showed a friend one of the new works I am working on and she said it made her want to cry. I love how art can inspire such strong emotions.
SR: Can you tell us a little bit about your process? eg from start to finish with a piece?
Kim: This could get me into a pickle! My head is always full of ideas, so I have to do a bit of sorting!
In the past few years John and I have been packing the tent in the car and going BUSH! This is the best. We usually walk in the morning and I paint or draw in the afternoons. I tend to work quite quickly with no expectation, but try to capture something about the place.
After a few weeks we wander home and then I will translate some of these paintings to large canvases or paper. As it happens the initial intent or response to a landscape is never the final result. Things happen in the process and I love this - the ‘letting go’ is what you always hope for, or, “where did that mark come from? I don't know - but thank you!” That kind of thing…
Left, 'Muttawing' by John Barter & friend Richard on said camping trip!
John: My work sometimes start with me finding an object and the object then leads me… Things like, I’ll find an old sewing machine housing, and they remind me of the body of an animal so I go from there.
With my print works, I like to move them around and mix them up to make them tell a story.
SR: You both live in Daylesford.. What do you like about being an artist who lives and works in the country - as opposed to the city?
Kim: I love where we live, on a little farm that backs onto Wombat Forest.Very beautiful and quiet. I do love being close to Melbourne but I couldn't paint there. I get too distracted, it’s too noisy and busy for me. Maybe - I AM GETTING OLD!
I think for me it is important to be amongst the natural world, as an artist life for me is about seeing or observing, and with an essence of stillness.
John: I grew up in Newcastle and Sydney and then moved to work with my family in Wagga Wagga, after doing many years in the kitchen. And then our guesthouse with Kim.. We decided we needed to get out of Wagga - it was just getting too big, around 50000 people - and we wanted to live in a smaller place a bit closer to Melbourne.
So Daylesford it was, it was a good choice.
SR: Which artists inspire you?
Kim: In a general sense I love to see anyone honouring their creativity. I so value the importance of expressing ourselves in positive ways; we seem to live in a culture that focuses on peoples’ weaknesses rather than strengths.
Back to the question..... I do love the abstract expressionists: Willem de Kooning, Rothko, Emile Nolde, Sidney Nolan, Twombly and I recently met Euan Macleod, Ann Thomson and Idris Murphy (Sydney abstract painters) at a painters camp, and they were fantastic mentors.
John: I love the work of Michael Leunig; it can be funny and it also makes you think.
Kim: We often go on camping trips with friends, all with various artistic pursuits. One of our recent trips was to the Flinders Ranges with a good two days (for me) in the car.
There were four of us: Prue and Richard are friends who are live nearby and are exploring their creativity. Pru – a psychologist and artist - paints and Richard writes and draws and he reads us poetry around the campfire at night. Very romantic!
Right, 'Robots', from John's new Stockroom show, 'Pull-E-Tops'.
We walk each morning and John and Pru usually find some old rusty bits and pieces, usually amazing left over bits of rubbish. Then he puts them together or films them, and that makes us all go “Jesus! He's a genius!” We laugh a lot and have great discussions as we all try and sort out the world!
John: We love going on camping trips. Mostly we go to national parks in the desert but sometimes to the coast. We usually go with our friends Richard and Prue who Kim just mentioned..
The others do painting; mostly I take some time to wind down and see what is around me. Sometimes I make things on the ground and just take pictures of the things I make. On one trip I made an eagle out of bits of bark and Richard - who also is a mad photographer - spent the entire day taking pictures of the eagle in different situations. (We had him tied to a pole with fishing line flying over the horizon!) I usually come back with a bag of found bits and many photos.
Kim: Gawd. Well yes we are always supporting each other and we feel free to advise… On “is this ok or is it crap?!” I am no good on computer and it’s various functions, so John helps me there. Photographing work and documenting work is a task in itself. (NB. John did this interview in half an hour. I am taking all AFTERNOON!)
Above, 'Close Shave' by Kim Barter, on display at Stockroom.
Art becomes your life really and we help each other balance the solitary working life with CHORES and family and friends.
John: We don't really work that much together apart from the street artworks we did in Wagga. We did have a show together in Melbourne at Libby Edwards Gallery; it was very interesting show and went quite well. But mostly we do our own work and just bounce off each other with thoughts about how an artwork is going, and whether something needs a little ‘tweek’.
Kim: We sure are. John is a boy, loves lists and is very methodical. Whereas I am an old girl, love spontaneity and allows work to evolve or inform me when painting. A very organic process for me…
Interestingly though we always seem to like the same artworks at exhibitions. I’m not sure if that is aesthetics, taste, or a liking for the quirky 'make-do' item, or the simply-expressed idea.
Above, photo from the camping trip, by John Barter.
John: Yes. Kim is full of ideas for her art - there is not enough hours in the day to make them all! I have to wait for my ideas to come.. Sometimes when we are out on our camping trips I will take days to find something to work on.
SR: What do you love about life - and what do you find funny about it?
Kim: I love the fact that I will never quite know it all (I do dream that there is some undiscovered place on the planet that no man will ever tread… but I am an optimist.)
The wonderment and mystery of life and things. How do the pelicans know when the rains will come and how do the mutton birds know where their nest is each year in Port Fairy?!
I tried to imagine the other day what it would be like to have no sense of smell… How could you describe the scent of daphne or freshly mown grass or the seaweed washed up on the beach at streaky bay?!!
I love thinking about humanity and how over millions of years the world has
adapted and tried to solve problems. How does the wiring in our brains work?
John: I love nature and friends and family, and just being with interesting people I like. I always find it funny when I trip over something or Kim does - I guess I like slap stick!! I like to make people laugh which comes into my artworks sometimes.
Kim: I love being able to express myself in a way that allows people to communicate on many levels. I like the fact that art allows us to react or see things, good, bad or indifferent, in a way that is universal and inclusive of all cultures and viewpoints. The world is fascinating and I do feel privileged that I live in a country that allows artists the freedom to express.
Left, image from Kim Barter's 'Unshaken', on display at Stockroom.
We are many-layered, just as my paintings are. I guess in a nutshell I hope I inspire others to honour themselves, be proud of who they are and express it!
John: Not having to go to work!!
John's brand new show was inspired by his trip to the Flinders Ranges (near Wilpena Pound) - it is exhibiting at Stockroom Feb 19 - March 13. Opening details here!
Words: Megan Spencer. Thanks to John and Kim Barter for the interviews & camping trip images.