Fran Barrat and Steve McGrath create artworks that are larger than life, while reflecting the humorous.
Describe your style of art … what gives you inspiration for many of your pieces, and what does your work primarily focus on?
F: My works are usually fairly narrative. The painting tells the story of some event that has affected me emotionally. I tend to emphasise the dominant feature of the event, what affected me most, so there’s a surreal, dreamlike feel to them. I use strong expressive colours, round sinuous forms, with little regard for perspective.
So the essential element in my paintings are my strong feelings about an event, and the subjects are usually animals and surfing, which can be pretty intense. The events are in my day-to-day life, so they tend to be from somewhere in my local environment.
For example, Steve and I were out surfing at Shelly Beach. The water was crystal clear, and we were sitting together, just us, in fairly shallow water. I turned to my left, and through the water, almost appearing out of the sand, came this two-and-a-half metre shark swimming calmly but purposely towards me.
Steve was looking the other way, and I said to him, “Lift your feet”. As he turned toward me and lay on his board, lifting his feet up, the shark curved away from me and they eyeballed each other as he swam under Steve’s board.
We got out real quick! I went home, full of adrenaline and painted what had happened, and now a surfing friend of ours has bought that painting. I love that whole process. All the emotion of the event … create a painting … share it with someone who loves it too.
We both have a great love for nature and have various animals living with us who tend to just turn up. We live near the ocean on a very bushy block of land. We surf regularly and we’re outside a lot. I’m at the beach every day, either surfing or walking or swimming or just looking.
I love the different communities at our beaches, especially early morning regulars. Being able to share in that gentle friendly community of happy appreciative people in beautiful surroundings is very inspiring and sustaining.
S: I have been a ceramist for the last 30 years and have made pottery ranging from wood-fired stoneware through to raku. Now I make terracotta sculpture with a focus on the garden. I’ve seen pieces of sculpture that have been around for centuries in gardens, museums, temples, pyramids, rainforests, deserts etc. and they just get better with me.
I love old things and find inspiration from pieces like these that you see lost in corners gathering moss and looking more beautiful all the time.
What do you enjoy most about painting and sculpting?
F: I find it relaxing, challenging, rewarding and cathartic. Because my paintings are so emotional, I have to focus on what’s important to me, what’s really touching me. I can’t be lazy about this. If I don’t tap into that emotion, I won’t have the desire to do the painting.
That emotion is where the energy for the painting lies. It’s not always lighthearted; I have some pretty dark paintings at home too. Painting makes me dig for what touches me, and then I have to give it a form that works for me.
It’s hard work, but very satisfying to be able to express myself in a way that gives me and other people pleasure. I really enjoy it when people have a good reaction to a painting. That’s a lot of fun. And I have a strong drive to get better and better at painting and to be more honest with what I’m saying.
S: When sculpting, I lose myself totally in the process of working clay. I love the way it shapes to your fingers, its texture and malleability and the fact that it will be turned to stone with some heat. It’s a very old and simple art form and one that I feel privileged to share with so many before me.
Fran, what are you currently working on?
Well, this is a subject I’ve been enjoying for some time. Steve and I go down to Shelly Beach almost daily, spending a bit of time talking to the regulars and enjoying that amazing spot. Time and again I’d hear travellers exclaiming how beautiful it is there and loving the sculptures that celebrate Harry’s life – especially that caravan – photographing the turkeys who roam about stealing from picnic baskets and really getting a lot of pleasure out of being there.
I wanted to express my feelings about the beauty of that area and Harry’s humorous relationship with the bush turkeys that he called his ‘chooks’. So I am painting a series based on Harry and his ‘chooks’, which has Harry and his caravan and a different turkey in each one.
Steve, tell us about the humorous nature of your sculptures. Why is this something you base your pieces on? Also, why dodos?
Sculptures capture a figure in time. Once the piece is fired and turned into stone, it is like that forever, or until it is broken into pieces. When making a piece, the turn of a tool or finger can make an expression into a frown or a smile, so I make my pieces with a big smile that gives them a humorous nature. If I was frozen in time, I’d like to be happy.
I’ve always been intrigued by Dodos – like anything you can’t have. There is very little recorded history of them at all. A few paintings and a couple of bones, no photos, no accurate models, yet they live on in our memories – often, I think, unfairly portrayed as being a bit stupid.
They were a dove, which is a symbol of peace and tranquility. I prefer to think they were a mythical and mysterious creature that was evolving to a higher place until they were unfortunately all eaten by marauding Europeans.
Where is your workshop and gallery?
F: We live at Rocky Beach, which is between Oxley and Flynns in a 100-year-old weatherboard house nestled among the gum trees. Steve has a great little workroom / studio down in the backyard with his chooks and vegies, and I have what was once the original garage but has long since been converted into a great studio space complete with French doors, deck and coloured glass windows.
We are open to the public by appointment (please phone 6584 9497).
S: Down in the back garden with my chooks and Blossom (my Cockatiel) I have a shed that is my studio. This is where my sculptures are, and yes, some of them are for sale. If you would like to have a look, please phone to make an appointment.
What do you enjoy most about showcasing your artworks at the Artist Market?
F: A big part of my enjoyment of the Artist Market is being able to share my work with other people on a personal level and in such a friendly and relaxed environment. I get a real kick out of talking with people about my paintings and seeing their enjoyment of them.
A lot of my work is a bit quirky and humorous, and that seems to appeal. It’s also great to be able to catch up with other artists, look at their work and discuss where they’re going with it.
And now that the Artist Market is combined with the Growers’ Market, it will make our work available to even more people.
S: I’m very pleased to have the Artist Market at Port Macquarie. It has provided a showcase for local artists to show their work. There is a large variety of great work on display and for sale, and I feel privileged to have my work on display with such quality local work.
It provides a great opportunity for people to purchase art that is not accessible at any other outlet. It’s great fun and a hotspot for local artists and other interesting people. I love the food and music too!
Thank you Fran and Steve.