Fran Barratt

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Fran’s personal and artistic journeys are intertwined. Life experiences have affected the way she creates her stunning works, and she’s now found new enthusiasm for her art at a deeper level. The natural environment continues to be a major inspiration for this talented artist …

Hi Fran. It’s been over two years since Focus last caught up with you. What’s changed since the last time we spoke?
My paintings have changed. They were colourful, slightly surreal and quirky paintings about animals, surfing, intense moments. I did a series on Harry and the bush turkeys at Shelly Beach, and I was in the middle of a series on koalas at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital when I had a bit of trauma in my life and stopped painting completely. I did ½ dozen sketches, and that was it for many months, and I was really, really uncomfortable about that.
Finally, a wise person suggested that I stop trying to create a piece of work and just play with my art. So I got a pencil and some paper and started doodling. I did reams and reams of doodles, then I started painting small abstracts, the canvases got larger, I introduced a colour or two, and now I’m painting large abstract pieces.
I use black a lot, with a limited palette. Some of my paintings are pure emotion with no plan to them. Some I have an idea in mind, and I’ll use symbolic images of my environment. Sometimes I’ll turn the painting upside down and finish it off that way. My rabbit, Ruben, has started turning up in some of them in an abstract way. I’m really enjoying painting. And I’m enjoying not knowing where I’m going with it.

Just to refresh our memories, you started to create art over 20 years ago, and you actually commenced with sculpture, moving on to oils as a medium. Do you still use oils?
I love the large full forms and the curves that I used to create with clay sculpture. I’d like it when those forms would feel full to bursting. One of my last sculptures was a big meditating female koala which I love, but I was drawn to painting so I could tell a story. Steve, my husband, knows how to tell a story with his sculptures. He does great sculptures – really humorous and expressive.
I use oils because of how they slide into each other, and I can create those shaded forms so reminiscent of sculpture … though lately, I’ve been painting with acrylic on masonite, because I’m planning on going to the new Artists’ Market at Cassegrain and paint while I’m there; my materials have to be weather hardy, as I won’t be using a marquee.
Steve and I used to do the Artists’ Market at Westport, which we really enjoyed. I’m not sure yet whether I can actually do a painting in public. Never ever done that before, so it just may not happen. I’m so used to being tucked up tight within my nest before I create. If you go to the Art Market and see someone sweating in front of a blank canvas, it’ll be me!

How do you use your paintings to express yourself creatively?
It’s funny, because after this trauma I thought I needed to paint about the event as part of the healing process. But a handful of sketches was all I could do. Maybe I’ll paint them one day, but for now I focus on doing work that’s enjoyable.
And if I keep that in mind, then I relax, and then the work is authentic, and I’m doing what I feel driven to do – not what I think I ‘should’ do according to some conscious or unconscious voice inside my head. And the thing I really like, and what I liked about sculpture, is that fullness and feeling of energy in an object, but also in the space around an object.
I particularly like the energy in the negative space (the space between objects) and I think that’s why I enjoyed the black on white abstracts. They’re simple, object and space, but both full of energy. In my paintings, the negative spaces often have as much depth as the objects they surround.

The colours in your earlier work are so vibrant. What do colours mean to you now?
Previously I never used black, and now I love the drama and strength of black … its intensity. In my former paintings, I loved the vibrancy of all the colours. Now something has shifted. I just don’t feel in touch with that riot of colour, but I do feel the need to be intense with black and darker colours and then maybe a blast of brightness.

Describe the gallery you work from – Little Frogwood Gallery. How many artworks would you estimate you have on display, and where did the unusual name come from?
Steve and I live in a little green renovated cottage. The previous owner planted a number of large trees and we added many natives, so we basically live in a little forest. Koalas visit the gums and there are heaps of birds, a possum or two, and frogs. Right by the front gate is a pond full of frogs, and you wouldn’t believe the racket they make on a summer’s night. Hence Little Frogwood.
Next to our cottage is our gallery; coloured glass, sunny, French doors opening onto a small deck which looks into some of our dodo inhabited bush. There’s plenty of artwork around. Big and small oils, acrylics and prints plus Steve’s sculptures, his ponds, birdbaths, lamps and of course, his dodos.
We’ve just been given Council approval to open our gallery, although we have been running it casually for a while. It is a work in progress. We open once a month on the 2nd Sunday of the month from 10am to 4pm, and at other times if anyone would like to ring first. We really enjoy the day. If nothing else, it’s a great time for our neighbours to drop in and have a cuppa! Please feel free to call in and have a look at our work.

What do you find is the biggest source of inspiration for your work?
My natural environment: trees, animals, the ocean, and my emotions.
And I’m really inspired by that unseen weightiness in the space around me. I like that mystery. It’s not all spelt out. There’s stuff going on that I don’t know about.

Apart from your gallery, where else can people see your work?
I have some pieces in the Organic Belly in Murray St. At the moment, there are two of my koalas and some of my small black and whites.
And at some stage I’ll be at the Artists’ Market in the Vines at Cassegrain Vineyard, which is a great new market for artists in a wonderful setting. It’s on the 4th Sunday of the month from 9am to 3pm.

How do people go about contacting you?
Little Frogwood Gallery, 5 Cross St, PMQ open 10 – 4, 2nd Sunday of the month, or other times by appointment.
Phone 6584 9497
Website www.franbarratt.com
Email franbarratt@westnet.com.au
Thanks Fran.
Interview by Jo Atkins.

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