For her Ephemeral artworks, created daily, Leonie Barton makes still-life compositions from found objects on beaches, in parks – anywhere she happens to be – then photographs them to create compelling abstract images. The physical compositions are then left in situ for others to happen upon, or for the elements to scatter, erode or destroy.
“My works are a way of getting people to slow down and look at what’s around them; to look at the familiar in unfamiliar ways. Some people do yoga, some people run. I play with sticks...”LEONIE BARTON
Leonie Barton doesn’t consider herself a photographer. “That’s the first thing that throws everyone. Photography is just how I capture a moment. I essentially draw or paint, which is what I’ve done since I was a child.”
This apparent contradiction has arisen since Barton set up her Ephemeral art project almost four years ago. She originally comes from a filmmaking background, having worked for years as a production manager. When she and her film editor husband had children, they felt that one of them had to change course, as both of them had to travel so much for work.
“So I bought and ran a big, beautiful art supplies store in Avalon [where she still lives]. I set it up primarily because I wanted my own studio to paint in, and didn’t have the space to work at home. So, how do you pay the rent for a studio? You sell art supplies!”
When circumstances changed – she sold the shop in 2010 – and Barton didn’t have the time or energy to paint, she had to find another creative outlet. “I couldn’t do nothing, as I’d get cranky if couldn’t paint. So I needed to find something I could do anywhere, within a limited time frame. I came across another artist on Instagram who was doing a daily discipline, who happened to be a former customer at the shop. She was a sculptor who’d set a challenge for herself to get out and work in nature for a year and make something. She was coming to the end of her project and I thought, I’d take over from her and set myself the challenge to do something every day for a year.
“Putting yourself out there on something like Instagram – the internet generally – is a good way of making you accountable. You have to stick to it. But it turned out that I love it. I wasn’t a disciplined person in that regard, but this meant I had to do something every day, whatever the weather and wherever my location was. I got really into it, and liked working this way, and just continued.”
Each day, Barton sets out at about 5am to create her Ephemeral artworks. “I try to go early because there’s nobody around. I’ve never been a morning person, which is weird, but it means I don’t have to talk to anyone while I fiddle and focus. I give myself about an hour and a half. I only use what I pick up from the ground, whether it’s rubbish, natural materials, or a mark in the sand. I don’t pick anything from live plants, and I don’t use any tools; I just try and compose something that’s visually pleasing to me. Then I shoot it and leave it behind – unless it’s made of rubbish, in which case I throw it in the bin. I do this wherever I find myself. I’ve done it when I’ve travelled, or when I’ve been away for work – Shanghai, Singapore…”
Once she’s shot her image (she started with a smartphone, but now uses a Canon camera so her images can be printed up quite large), she concentrates on drawing out the grain and texture of her compositions. “I’m pretty heavy on the contrast and sometimes I take out the colour, as I’m quite partial to black and white. It brings out the rich textures of the sand.” She eschews Photoshop completely, however, preferring to remain true to the original composition.
Now coming into the fourth year of her Ephemeral project, and with some 590 works completed to date, Barton is still going out every day. “These days I’m a bit more picky, though, and if I don’t like my image, I don’t post it.”
But that doesn’t deter her ever-increasing following. “My project seems to have taken on a little life of its own. I have almost 6000 people from around the world who tap into Instagram.” Beyond the internet, last year, Barton exhibited her works at Sydney’s Botanic Gardens and The Other Art Fair in Sydney. In January this year, she was invited to Singapore Contemporary. “It was the first year they were including photography, and the curator of photography for the Singapore Museum at the time rang me and asked me to come.”
In May, she’ll be in Melbourne, where she’s been selected again for The Other Art Fair, and she’ll be showing at Sheffer Gallery in Sydney that month, too.
So what does she think resonates so strongly in her Ephemeral artworks? “Everyone’s so busy rushing around. My works are a way of getting people to slow down and look at what’s around them; to look at the familiar in unfamiliar ways. It also connects people all over the world. I have people who contact me about my project – sometimes from really troubled, dangerous places. I’ll never forget one woman who contacted me very early on. She was living in pretty terrible conditions and I asked her why my work interested her, and she just said, ‘The world still needs pretty things.’ That comment really stayed with me.
“Plus, I’m a bit anal – a control freak – and the great thing for me about doing this art is that it can’t be perfect. Some people do yoga, some people run. I play with sticks. I don’t pre-plan a piece; everything comes about according to my head space on a particular day.”read less