Leonie Barton - She Went to the Vatican

Leonie Barton

Leonie Barton in her garden

Leonie Barton is a self-taught artist based in Avalon Beach in Sydney’s picturesque Pittwater area. The environment feeds into her practice as she follows the changing seasons around her and how the complexity of nature is in constant flux. Both the power and stillness of the outdoors informs her practice, whether it’s her drawings, paintings, ephemeral installations, or the large format photography from solo travels through remote areas of the world.

Leonie had always drawn from a young age as well as constructing small ephemeral installations from natural materials in the bush where she grew up in far north Queensland. Her art practice continued throughout life, squeezed in and around a film production career and later on children, opening an art store to secure studio space and becoming an illustrative painter for Geddes Group, until she could commit to becoming a full-time artist in 2017.

The Ephemeral Installation Photography project consisting of now over 680 works, began with a daily discipline of creating a sculptural installation on the ground made only from discarded natural or human-made detritus. These installations were created wherever she found herself in the world, outback Australia, China, India, Morocco, Asia, across Europe and the US with the bulk of the series created on the shores of her beloved Pittwater.

Leonie began working intuitively, discovering shapes, balance and harmony in the compositions; however rather than call herself a photographer, the artist used the medium of photography to document her installations, capturing the fleeting sculpture. Leonie has exhibited these in Sydney, Melbourne, London and Singapore by invitation of the curators of PHOTO17. In 2019 the artist was commissioned by Oatleys Wines to create a range of exclusive labels for the Artist Series with Craigmoor Wines created on-site in the vineyards at Mudgee NSW.

After returning from India in 2018, Leonie found she required spine surgery, a turning point in both life and practice, thought and process. Needing to step away (for a time) from the physical involvement of the ephemeral, she turned to studio painting in small time frames, which over 18 months became longer sessions on larger surfaces. While building her new discipline from the ground up she has unearthed a passion to paint, allowing the work to be intuitive, all the while learning how to define her new practice.

Part of Leonie’s recent turn to painting is about attempting to relinquish control; letting go and exploring the scope of creativity and its potential materials. Within Leonie’s paintings, there is a balance between the ephemeral shapes captured in her prints, to a looser mediation on boards, paper and canvas. Her gestural abstracts echo the colour fields of Rothko or Barbara Hepworth’s modernist sculptures— defined by a mixture of soft and sharp edges, the colour and brushwork give off emotion that is rooted in aesthetics. The process is joyful, instinctive and becomes about the formal aspects; how the line, colour, form is discovered through individual mark-making.

Spending time in nature is essential to the artist’s practice, for its grounding and for its allowance to encounter the intimate details of life — slowly. Like a big open space, Leonie’s paintings capture the anonymity of being alone in the desert, like the scenes captured in her photographs of North West NSW, Central Australia, crossing the Sahara, or traversing Namibia.

Going forward, Leonie hopes to apply more local pigments and grounds to her paintings, make larger-scale works, all while keeping the sculpture exploration simmering in the background. She also hopes to take on more site-specific commissions for the Ephemeral Installation Photography. Most recently Leonie was invited by Noosa Regional Gallery to instruct a week-long Masterclass and mentor the artists in the biannual land art festival, Floating Lands.


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