It might be tempting before these electrically vibrant paintings to see Barbara Bolt as primarily intoxicated with colour, with the action of light, natural or artificial, on urban streetlife.

Art Exhibition previously on at Catherine Asquith Gallery (Archived) in Fitzroy-Collingwood precinct, Victoria, Australia.
From Tuesday 16 October 2012 to Saturday 03 November 2012
Launch Thursday 18 October 2012, 6 to 8pm

Untitled - Triangulation image Bourke St 5pm (panel 1) image Bourke St 5pm (panel 2) image Bourke St 5pm (panel 3) image Bourke St 5pm (triptych) image Proscenium image Untitled image The unbearable lightness of being image Elegy to an Oz Republic image Untitled 2 image Untitled - Neon image Untitled - Is that Nick Cave? image Untitled - Tipping Point image Untitled - Analogy image Untitled - Face to face image Untitled - Weight image

Published by anonymous on Monday 01 October 2012.
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But this intoxication is not just a thing of the eye; it encompasses much more than colour; it is a somatic passion, and as Bolt herself recognises in her theorisation of visual arts practice, a passion for performingwith the medium at hand the world as experienced through all senses, including of course the visual, but just as intensely, the tactile and the kinetic. Actively present everywhere here is the body of the artist engaging with the world.

…When Barbara Bolt first came to Melbourne in 2003 from the Sunshine Coast the colour-intoxicated artist seemed bereft, mourning under the overcast grey skies of Melbourne the loss of the sun-engorged tropics, which she had celebrated in a series of exuberantly brilliant semi-abstractions, like ‘Tropical Techno’ of 2002 or ‘Breathe’ of 2004. So began the artist’s fervent quest for the colour factor in the southern city,which led to the fabulous film-noiresque street figures of neon blue, celebrating the tension between the urban grid and bodies on the move through the night streets of Melbourne: the holding armature provided by minimally suggested lamp poles, street signs and shop windows and the punctual red brake or traffic light, is set in exhilarating dialogue with the loping, neon-drenched, wind- and water- inflected, stretched and warped shapes of the human figures. A white shirt flares blue like wicked desire under the Lygon St sign ‘FCUK’ and while the suited male walker ambles funkily along, his shadow legs almost break into a boogie. Frequently, in fact, the shadow and reflection suggest an unconscious propensity of the figure: the pedestrian body might be sensibly ambulant but the shadow often warps towards metamorphosis: at one moment into something more menacing and jagged; at another, inflected towards an intimacy, while the bodies themselves maintain a degree of propriety. These are all themes and motifs which are explored with virtuosic confidence in Streetwise.

There are echoes of impressionists like Caillebotte and Renoir, or closer to home, of Condor, in the chromatic shimmer on rain-slicked surfaces, and the rhythmic treatment of the accessories of weather, like the angled umbrella or the hood. These rhythms can be amplified through the design of the negative spaces, as in the ‘Bourke St 5pm’ triptych, where a virtual ‘arcade ’is formed by the legs, straight, bowed, or at ease, in the group at the tram-stop in the foreground. The triptych references, in its title and its parallel frieze structure, John Brack’s famous parade of hatchet-profiled, jaundiced workers in ‘Collins St 5pm’. Here, however, the relaxed postures of the tram-stop gathering, along with the sumptuous, almost carnivalesque oranges, yellows and reds of the pavement, convey a radically different view of the city, exuberantly remote from Brack’s morbidly alienated workers.

…Evident throughout this work is the tact of the artist’s approach: her looking is never an invasion; in fact it indicates intimacies to which it is not privy. In the beautiful, fluid ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’, the taller coated figure on the left loses some of her individual definition as she leans towards the walking companion, seemingly offering her the shelter of confidence.

…In the perspective of this ethical modesty I recall Bolt’s brilliant meditation on the challenge that glare of the Western Australian sun presents to the Enlightenment ‘triangulation of light, knowledge and form’. An interrogative, rather than ‘knowing’, approach is celebrated here, even in wintering Melbourne, through the way ‘accidents’ of neon and rain dissolve and transmogrify what we think we know. It’s a recognition that the medium through which we see always affects the objects of perception and many of the works take comic pleasure in these transformations: in ‘Weight’ the old woman leaning on her stick finds an anchoring solidity through her reflected skirt and the vertical prolongation of the stick by its reflections allows her rhythmical connection with the leaner, able-bodied pedestrians in the upper left-hand corner. In the Breughelesque crowd composition of ‘Is that Nick Cave?’ the visual confusion through the blur of drizzle and complex reflection proliferates phantoms and de-realises forms in an implied comedy of misrecognition. I think that it’s possible to say that there has always been a sense of the uncanny attending the edge of this artist’s gaze, a sense of selves ‘othered’ on the rim of her attention, where light or water eats line, collapses volume, and whereby ‘forms’ of knowing dissolve. The event that these electrically alive paintings stage, is the encounter of the figural subject and the material process – which propels the artist’s endless questioning as much as her questing and questioning propel it.

These works do not seek to represent a ‘known’ world, or even a ‘known’ Melbourne: rather, they stage moments of great fugitive and elusive beauty for our interrogative pleasure.

Marian Campbell August 2012


Barbara Bolt is a practicing artist and art theorist and lectures at the VCA and MCM at the University of Melbourne. Her publications include two monographs Art Beyond Representation: The Performative Power of the Image (2004) and Heidegger Reframed: Interpreting Key Thinkers for the Arts (2011) and three co-edited publications, Practice as Research: Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry (2007) with Estelle Barrett and Sensorium: Aesthetics, Art, Life (2007) with Felicity Coleman, Graham Jones and Ashley Woodward and an edited anthology of writings Carnal Knowledges: Towards a New Materialism through the Arts (co-edited with Estelle Barrett, I.B.Tauris, 2012).

Her art practice, which spans twenty-five years investigates the material possibilities of painting and involves an intense dialogue with theory. Publications such as the DVD Neon Blue (2009), ‘Whose Joy?: Giotto, Yves Klein and Neon Blue’ (2011), ‘Rhythm and the Performative Power of the Index: Lessons from Kathleen Petyarre’s paintings’ (2006), ‘Shedding Light for the Matter’ (2000) and ‘Im/pulsive practices: Painting and the Logic of Sensation’ (1997) have emerged from this dialogue between theory and practice.