From the gaudy, teeming canyons of Tokyo to an isolated cave on Lord Howe Island, the Archibald Prize-winning artist reflects on the travel moments that have taken her breath away.
2011: Anyone who imagines that a three-storey-high bronze sculpture of a spider should be fairly easy to find hasn’t looked for one in a metropolis as intense as Tokyo. For decades, I’d idolised the French-American artist Louise Bourgeois but until I visited Tokyo, I hadn’t seen a lot of her work in the flesh. Her broad and fiercely feminine oeuvre is very close to my own creative sensibilities. Finding her spider work in Roppongi Hills was a moment I’d dreamt about. I finally turned a corner and there it was, Maman – this extraordinarily monumental spider that somehow looked like it was barely touching the ground. I lay down underneath it and actually cried. It was a very deep moment for me. I consider it to be a masterwork, the way she designed it and the way the engineers were able to execute it so that it appears to defy gravity. Louise Bourgeois is dead now but she changed my life on so many levels. It was a moment of profound homage to one of my greatest heroes.
2013: The first time I went to Greece, it was with my partner, our two kids and two other families. One of our friends on the trip, Angela, is Greek and knows the island intimately. One special day we drove out of the densely populated craziness into the arid zone, a landscape punctuated by sculptural cacti (my favourite!), dramatically framed by the intense aqua blue of the Mediterranean. Finally, we came to this tiny little beach. Under an enormous olive tree was a little family-run restaurant called Kiki’s. You don’t order; they just serve you what they make for the day and you drink homemade wine out of little tin cups. We had a massive plate of artichokes delivered by a cheerful Greek woman who kept bringing out extraordinary dishes so we could eat them under the tree. I remember my son saying that the pork chop was the best he’d ever eaten. Without Angela, we’d never have discovered this glorious piece of paradise.
Lord Howe Island
2013: One of the things I love about Lord Howe Island is that there’s a limit to the number of people allowed there at any given time. When you’re hiking, the landscape is so pristine you feel like you’re the only person on the island. One morning, my partner, our kids and I left the beautiful Capella Lodge and did an extraordinary walk up Mount Lidgbird. You can climb all the way up the mountain – it’s 777 metres – but we only went halfway because the kids were so young. I can only imagine the view from the top because from our vantage point, it was stupendous. The four of us sat in a cave looking out over the island, awestruck at the power of the ocean and feeling such connectivity with the landscape. The way the island has preserved its wildlife is really special. It’s more like a volcanic New Zealand landscape and for me it had this emotional intensity that felt very palpable, creatively. ￼
Del Kathryn Barton won the Archibald Prize in 2008 and 2013. Her work hangs in Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in Paddington, Sydney.
Photography by Steven Siewert