Songs From Memory - Artist Statement
On many occasions I have returned to Stokes Valley, the lovely little suburb where I grew up. Many friends, and the odd family member still reside there. A modest and humble community, full of some wonderful people. People I respect and love. And it’s why I still hold my head high when I tell people where I am from.
Most visits I will often pass my old family homes. Things slowly change over the years. New people come and others move on. Gardens and colours change. Trees go and new ones appear. But there’s one thing that remains unchanged. The birds.
The beautiful hills that stood behind our home are still an abundance of bird life. They still sing their songs and take me back to a wonderful childhood and beautiful memories.
But it’s not just my childhood haunts. Places and locations all around the world, birds still sing their familiar songs and help you recall fond memories of the past. From the Alpine Keas of Te Wai Pounamu to Ravens in County Cork, the birds maintain their residency. Waiting for your return to once again greet you. And help you feel comfortable surrounded by familiar friends.
I’ve drawn these birds in charcoal as I would my human friends, holding a proud pose in a more traditional portraiture style. Demanding respect that I would expect from any of my sitters. And as ancestors from the yesteryear, we can reflect on their image to create a warming energy from our past. My dots representing a familiar echo that connects us to the past, present and future. And the birds forever present in all aspects of those dimensions.
And even though Mr McCann from number 45 has long since passed. I can still rely on the tui’s call, to take me back to some beautiful memories on Montgomery Street.
Q & A’s – Gareth Barlow – July Exhibition 2023
- Who and what inspires your artwork?
For this particular series, I’ve looked at how birds populate many areas we love. And over the years when we revisit these places, they still remain, waiting for our return to once again greet us, and help you feel comfortable surrounded by familiar friends. They’re kaitiaki. Guardians. Not only of our cherished places, but when they sing their familiar song, it’s like they are presenting us with a special memory from the past.
- What do you think it is about your work that immediately captures the hearts of collectors?
I think the themes in my work tell a familiar story. Something many Kiwis, and Antipodeans in general can relate to. We all share aspects of our whakapapa. Māori and Pākehā. And we’ve grown up in environments that have nurtured our characters to who we are and what we’re proud of. I like to think my work captures that energy and tells a story that people can claim as their own.
For this series, I think everyone connects to birds in some way. Often they are used as symbols, and in New Zealand’s case, a national identity. I’ve used them in many of my works over the years, in all aspects of my practice.
Māori see birds as messengers between our world and the spirit world. Celtic traditions saw many birds as guardians and manifestations of gods. They’re often presented to us as omens - good and bad. But everywhere we go, there are birds. And everyone has a special place, a place where they love to spend time. And in every one of those places, they can be rest assured that a feathered friend will be close at hand.
- Tell us more about your creative process?
I’m still a 9 to 5 kind of guy. Well, 7.30 to 4 at least. And generally when I am in my studio I am creating. After 30 years as a conceptual creative, I often think about ideas in my head before getting anything down. So when I do get into my studio, I can hit the ground running. I have three different disciplines and I would be happy to describe myself and a prolific maker. Although I do enter my studio with a general idea of what I am doing, I do love to let things happen organically. Colours and compositions that manifest as you work, create a wonderful energy. Māori believe artists are simply conduits through which the gods create. I love that notion. And wherever possible, I like to open an invitation for ancestors and beyond to join me in my journey and creative process.
- Can you tell us about your success as an artist and your biggest career highlight to date?
I spent a 30 year career as a commercial artist and art director in a number of design and advertising agencies in New Zealand and Australia. I had a wonderful career, winning a number of awards along the way. However, I decided to go full time with my art practice about five years ago, and I certainly haven’t looked back since. In those 5 years I have been a finalist in a number of award shows in Australia and New Zealand. Including the revered Wallace Art Awards in 2020 and the National Contemporary Art Award in 2022. I am a three time Adam Portraiture Prize finalist, including runner up to the People’s Choice on two of those occasions. As well as a finalist in the last two Parkin Drawing Prizes - winning a merit and the People’s Choice award in 2021. However, all that aside, as portraiture features heavily within my practice, I’ve been fortunate to share the air with some special people from our wonderful country. Gain knowledge and perspectives. I think I’m a better person because of that. And I hope my work makes people feel the same.
- What can we expect to see in this upcoming exhibition?
‘Songs From Memory’ is an intimate show of only six acrylic and charcoal on paper works. I’ve drawn these birds in charcoal as I would my human friends, holding a proud pose in a more traditional portraiture style. Demanding respect that I would expect from any of my sitters. And as ancestors from yesteryear, we can reflect on their image to create a warming energy from our past. My dots representing a familiar echo that connects us to the past, present and future. And the birds forever present in all aspects of those dimensions.