Life is an emotional experience…As I enter the studio of Jonathan Barnard I am quite captivated by his work and move towards the neatly laid out paintings on the floor. The detail is amazing and the complexity of the work gives rise to many responses. The initial one being to admire the colour palette for me anyway, as I love these soft greens, blues and greys and the technique, which has allowed him to sympathetically create the Tasmanian landscape. But a deeper response engages me and keeps drawing me back. Jonathan Barnard’s work evokes a feeling of intense engagement and its mystical quality helps to transcend a particular time and place. It is evocative of Tasmanian landscape rather than being a literal representation.
We get to talking and he tells me he is an ‘old surfie’, the youngest of four children. He helped his brother make surfboards as a teenager.
His family migrated from England when he was five and his father came to manage the casino when it had just opened in 1972. His mother had an antique shop and encouraged her youngest child in his artistic pursuits. Good at all the creative arts from performing to music, he found the visual arts where he could express himself most fully, and it “was the thing that really brought me peace”.
Going back to surfing as a metaphor for an experience he likens to his painting, he says as a surfer you are one with nature and able to really connect, causing you to react as you are interacting with an organic surface. Jonathan says he finds the process of painting a lot like this. He does not paint from photographs and only occasionally paints outdoors, preferring to recall the bush and the landscape. Perhaps this is why his work is so evocative and the viewer has such an emotional response to it. He tells me that, “Life is an emotional experience, an emotional journey”, and an artist is merely creating more concrete evidence of their experience. He says, “If you get it right, then people get it. What you are trying to say as an artist”.
At 23 he returned to Art School at the University of Tasmania in Hobart and completed a BA in Fine Arts with honours, finishing in 1996. From my first impressions of him as being quiet and unassuming, I am beginning to see more and more unfolding, to reveal an artist who is both intellectual and intuitive. Much of his conversation indicates his work has a profound effect on his life, and a painter who can earn a living by working as an artist full-time is a rare thing in today’s world. The Wellington series (which were laid out on the floor when I arrived) display an anthropomorphic use of trees as subject matter, and veils of mist create an ethereal world.
He describes the effect his work has on the viewer as they hover over the landscape or conversely are immersed in dense bush, all evoking emotional responses to an emotional experience. To keep his work in a place of timelessness he has deliberately never had people or humanity as subject matter, describing himself as an environmental artist. As Jonathan and his partner, Melissa Mackay, await the birth of their first child, he describes Melissa as a definite muse to his work, “which was darker and lonelier before”, he says.
You can catch his latest exhibition at the Goulburn Street Gallery from February 24th to March 22nd this year.
Words: Claire Andrews
Images: Helena Blundell