Liz Barsham is an old friend of the family. We knew her before she became one of Australia's leading surrealist artists -- although she isn't happy with the surrealist tag and prefers to describe her work as "expressionist" (she calls it Tasmanian Gothic). Her new exhibition opened in North Hobart this month -- "Excursions and Adventures - new paintings by Elizabeth Barsham". (Picture shows Liz on the left with Lara van Raay in front of one of her paintings.)
The works on show covered all sorts of emotions and styles. "Eyes of the Forest" is a straightforward depiction of -- well, a forest of eyes. "The Flower" caught many people's attention with its splash of colour illuminating a drab and dusty world. "Battleship" is just that, and "The Mechanics" mixes apocalyptic wreckage with a rather endearing pair of mechanics who seem unphased by the cataclysym, jauntily wielding their spanners as they prepare for work.
"The Great Silence", with its shambling beast approaching the viewer, would be perfectly at home illustrating a collection of stories by HP Lovecraft. "The laughing girl" is at odds with its cheery title and caused some unease whenever I looked at it.
"Song of the Mill", 58 cm x 41 cm acrylic on paper, was her contribution to Metamorphosis, an international exhibition at the annual Ripattoni Art Festival in Italy. Notable for surrounding its organ-playing protagonist with an array of Tasmanian ferns, which Cary Lenahan was happy to enumerate for me.
"Child's Guide to Wilderness" has something of a Lewis Carroll feel, with an immaculate little girl wandering through a strange world - which is obviously Tasmania, given the subtle inclusion of a Tasmanian Tiger and Mount Wellington in the background. "McCrae's Hill" even more so, with a completely realistic Tasmanian countryside in the background of a typically Barshamesque shambles.
Sometimes the fantastic is so close to the real. "Seabird" depicts a skeletal shape dominating the landscape, recalling to my mind the chicken skeleton by my back door, so perfectly does it capture the long-dead avian look.
If I had to choose a picture I would want to live with on my wall, I would find it difficult to choose between the endearingly elliptical bestiary of "Strange Flightless Birds Wandered The Hills" and the small but perfectly rendered piece "Little Sisters of Perpetual Motion" which would have perfectly suited one of those abstract covers that Penguin paperbacks used to have back in the 1960s.