January 19th, 2023Craig Barrett: A love of art and pared back simplicity
Creswick’s Craig Barrett is one of the region’s accomplished artists whose love of landscape and the natural world and the way human endeavour has interacted with it, resonates through his creative output. He has works held in the National Gallery of Victoria, the State Library of Victoria and the Shrine of Remembrance in addition to private and corporate collections. He chatted with journalist Eve Lamb about his love of art and his personal arts practice.
Eve: Does your arts practice conform to any particular genre and if so which?
Craig: None at all. All over the place, it depends on what interests me at the time. Over the past 45 years I have ventured through impressionism, abstraction, symbolism – wherever seems to be my sweet spot at the time.
Eve: How do you prefer to describe your artistic style?
Craig: For the past 20 years, since living in the south of France with my then wife Kendry, I have been heavily influenced by Romanesque art of the 10th-12th centuries. I like its pared back simplicity. Things are implied rather than spelt out. A stripping back of detail. Detail is a distraction from the essential, the important.
Eve: How did you come to art?
Craig: Art came to me – by magic. Nobody in my family had any interest in art. As a child, there were no original artworks on the walls, only those classic flying ducks – and ceramics. A friend of my mother’s gave me a small box of oil pastels. The glory of that rainbow of colours and the smell of those pastels remain with me. My eldest brother gave me a small set of oil paints when I was about 13 or 14. New smells of paint and turps. Hooked from thereon.
Eve: Which artists, current or historic, have influenced your own work?
Craig: Wow! As teenagers, I think we all fell in love with the French Impressionists. As I grew older, learnt more and travelled the world, I became more influenced by artists that looked inward rather than outward. Someone like Pierre Bonnard, the way he could paint a bowl of fruit as a spiritual journey, as with a Chardin still life study. Perhaps the master of all, Giorgio Morandi who found endless possibilities in a few bottles, vases and tins. When in Spain, I discovered Arshile Gorky. I was moved to tears by his intensely personal abstract paintings and drawings. Gorky himself used to say he was “with” Cezanne, or Picasso or whoever was his influence at the time. I feel like that also. Since my time in France, my main influence has been that of the great unknown and nameless artists of antiquity. Extraordinary sculptures, paintings, stained glass windows and architecture. Not the current “celebrity artists” of our time.
Eve: What is your medium/media of choice?
Craig: I pick up whatever seems to suit the idea. Painting, drawing, etching, sculpture. They all have a particular response.
Eve: What is/are your subject matter of choice? Why so?
Craig: Crikey. What takes my interest at the time. I do seem to come back again and again to some subjects. I have great empathy for people working the land. The hardships and the rewards of that. So, there are a lot of rural themes returning. Also, I am a sucker for heavy industry as well.
Eve: What are you working on at the moment in your current arts practice?
Craig: In September 2022 I had a small retrospective exhibition at Stephen McLaughlan Gallery in Melbourne to celebrate the 25 years that I have been showing with him. The Berry Consols works that were on loan to the Eureka Centre in Ballarat in 2021 will be touring to the Central Goldfields Gallery (Maryborough) in 2023. Currently, I am about to start a new series – still secret.
Eve: When you work do you like to play music?
Craig: Always have music when I am working. Always Baroque. Cello, viola. Sublime. Music never got any better in my book.
Eve: To date, what have been your career highlights as an artist?
Craig: Buggered if I know. It is always one foot in front of the other and don’t look back. I have works in the collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, the State Library of Victoria, the Shrine of Remembrance in addition to private and corporate collections. I did get a thrill though when I saw a drawing of mine at the NGV hanging between two heroes – Max Ernst and Paul Signac.
Eve: Do you have any unrealised artistic goals towards which you are striving?
Craig: In 2001 I had three exhibitions in Melbourne – at Stephen McLaughlan Gallery, at the Shrine of Remembrance, and at McClelland Gallery. At the time, I thought this was the launch of a great career. By the time my wife Kendry and I returned from France, all I could think about were the truly great anonymous archaic and medieval art works that I had encountered. There was no ego in those works. They were simply great. Now, I am just happy to make what I make. If someone else enjoys that, that is enough for me. However, it would be nice to see in print the children’s book Bonne Chasse! that Kendry wrote and I illustrated while we lived in France. There’s a dream still to come.
Eve: What do you think are the main challenges for practicing artists today?
Craig: The absolute terror of online ‘art’ markets. Picture framing, I see so much digital crap that is just wallpaper. Why would any person of sound mind buy something they have never seen in the flesh? Also, the generations that used to actually collect real art are now disappearing. They are downsizing their homes and their collections. The young ones have no art literacy and are buying digital garbage – very sad.
Eve: And the main rewards?
Craig: For the true believers, art-making is its own reward. What else would we do?