Artworx Gallery | Contemporary Art & Gifts | Goolwa SA

Artworx Gallery - currently celebrating its 10th anniversary - is a regular award winner and the finest contemporary art gallery on South Australia's Fleurieu Peninsula.

Enjoying Art

Enjoying Art

Of all that has been said, written and done in the name of art, there is no doubt that it stands as one of the greatest sources of joy, happiness and fulfilment among humanity.

It is in our genes to create, which together with love, stands as one of our greatest attributes. In common with the rest of the animal world, we create habitats and nests, but we are unique in that we can create for pleasure and not just our own.

There are joys to be had in all aspects of painting and they can touch every type of artist at every level of ability, from a child's first drawing to the finishing touches of a masterpiece.

There are not many artists who haven't revelled in trawling through the offerings of an art supply shop or wondered at how time deliciously disappears when engrossed in work.

Even though we work alone, many of us enjoy these periods and are recharged mentally by them. It is also true, that painting time shared among those of like-mind is enjoyable and often nourishing. Paint is a universal language and it becomes apparent when we choose to paint outdoors with others.

But there is more! Where ever you look, painting and activities surrounding it are enjoyed by millions.  It is like a social glue that brings many people together and painting for this outcome alone is extremely valid.  

Also, people paint just for the personal expression of it all -  there are statements to be made and most things can be said in paint.  Great satisfaction is to be had by having these statements seen and understood by others, even though it is not a course taken by everyone.

Then there is the undeniable sense of achievement in any form of art once a piece is completed. For sure, the process was enjoyed and the finished piece is unique - a project that was commenced and finished brings its own rewards. On this painting journey happy accidents often materialise to help us along the way, particularly in watercolour! Sometimes, we get excited over little improvements we see in our work because it means it is possible to get better and we are heading in that direction.

Finally, I don't think I know of any artist that doesn't love a sale, no matter how much it was purchased for and the first sale is always the best. The sale is the expression of love by someone else toward what an artist has created. In the world of art, there is no greater love received or given than this!

Yes, there may be a few frustrations when it comes to painting, but thankfully they are not life threatening. The positives far outweigh any little niggles along the way and that is why so many millions of people are turning to it today. It is a great privilege of the times in which we live.

Mike Barr

Caption: Plein-air painting with other is one of the most enjoyable aspects of being an artist.


Excel At One Thing

Excel At One Thing And Become Better At The Rest

A lot of artists get criticised for painting similar works, but any artist who is serious about becoming known for their painting, will produce series of similar themed works and their work becomes recognisable. Artists become known for the type of work they do and although they may paint many subjects, there is at least one that they will be known for. Conversely, those who paint everything can easily  be known for nothing.

Apart from the aspect of becoming known for a particular subject, there is a far more important benefit to painting similar things, at least for a while. As in anything that we repeat, we tend to get better at it.  It is the only way progress is ever made in so many things we do in life, whether at home, at work or at play.

By trying to paint every available subject possible, we never become truly proficient at anything. Just when we may be making some progress on skies, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to be changing to pet portraits and then to still life.  It doesn't mean we have to 'just' do one thing, but it does mean that if we feel the need to progress, then we are best served by concentrating most of our efforts in just one direction.

Such a focussed course of action can get some adverse reactions and you may hear - "Is that all you can paint"  or "Isn't it time to try something else" or worse! The path an artist takes is their own and belongs to no one else and just because someone would love us to paint gum trees, it's no reason at all to do so. 

We have got to love what we paint before others can love it too.

As we get 'better' at painting that one thing we love, it has two additional benefits. Firstly, confidence is gained in the painting process that will show in our work and secondly, it will enable us to tackle new subjects with the skills and confidence we have acquired.

A visit to your local gallery like the Artworx Gallery in Goolwa, will show all the artists who have specialised and become somewhat of an expert in at least one subject. It doesn't mean that they will always paint like that, but it is how they have succeeded in what they do.

Mike Barr

Paint More

Paint more - progress faster

My first job at the age of 15 was in a pottery store/school in which I learnt everything about clay, glazes, loading and firing kilns and eventually I learned how to produce pottery on the wheel myself.  Looking back, the greatest thing I learned was that nothing happens without practice. During the day I popped my head into the various pottery classes and saw students struggle with the very basics of wheel-thrown work and that was centring the clay ball on the wheel head. Without this, the pot never worked and some students didn't get it even after the 10 week course - the clay always seemed to be in charge! In a way it was comical to watch, but the simplicity of the problem was this; the students only did this once a week at the class and didn't or couldn't practice at home.

Painting is exactly the same.  Being able to paint is not some magical capacity that just a few possess, it is a skill that can be learned. No normal person is born with the ability to draw and paint well and every painter of any standing started off by doing some pretty ordinary work - believe me!

Once-a-week painting may be relaxing and even social if done with others, but there is little chance of improvement if that is what we are after.

There are two aspects to progress. One is learning from others from workshops, classes, books, videos and demos. The other is putting all this stuff into practice and that must be done in our own time and as often as we can manage it. In reality, there is no such thing as a self-taught artist because we all learn from something, either formal teaching or what we have learned from others along the way. Self-taught or formally taught, there is no progress to be had if we don't practice.

Okay, now here's the thing. There are no short-cuts in learning to paint, but there is better use of brush hours that will have us improving quicker than just plodding along - and the plan is this.

We are going to paint a beachscape and we have a choice. We can do a medium to large piece that may take us 10 hours to complete. Alternatively, we can do 10, one-hour small paintings of similar scenes.  If we choose the small paintings, then we will do 10 more than just doing one in the same time. That means we will have 10-times more experience at doing the sky, 10-times more experience at doing waves, 10 times more experience at mixing those colours and importantly, 10 times the confidence you would have had if you had just done the one painting in 10 hours.  Yes, it makes sense and it works.  Repetition is a key to any skill and once confidence and an amount of skill is obtained, then the world is your oyster!

The other important aspect of learning like this though, is to regard your 10 small works as practice pieces and don't put pressure on yourself thinking that they all must be perfect.  It's painting, not photography and any striving for perfection will set you up for failure.  Often taking the pressure off in this way will produce some good works.

Get all those small-works brush hours under your belt and watch yourself grow as an artist.

Mike Barr

Beach Path - 30x30cm Oil on Board


The Benefits of Painting Outdoors

The benefits of painting outdoors (plein air)

Since the days of the impressionists, artists have enjoyed the experience of painting outdoors. It is one of the true joys of being a painter. Not only are we one-to-one with nature, but there is also the camaraderie when two or more decide to paint on location.

In Australia there are a good number of artists who have always painted a large percentage of their work on location and sometimes on a large scale. Today, there is a kind of revolution taking place, where more and more artists are choosing to experience the enjoyment and challenges of painting away from home, even if it is in the garden!

Why is plein air infectious?
There is no doubt about it, once we are bitten by the plein air bug, it’s hard to stop – you just want more.  So, why is that?  Foremost, I think painting out with nature is like a holiday for artists. Sure, we can pay thousands for a big painting holiday, but going out for a day’s painting fairly locally, comes without the hassles and cost of something much bigger. A place that you may be familiar with, suddenly takes on a new look and feel when you are there to paint – it has all the feel and enjoyment of a little holiday, particularly if we are in company with other artists - friendships are formed and cemented.

The benefits of painting plein air
There are also tangible benefits to working outdoors.
* You see colour as it is and not through the medium of a computer monitor or printed page
* By using a limited palette are colours become good old friends and colour mixing becomes instinctive
* We tend to work faster because conditions (light and shadow) are always changing
* Because we work faster we learn to simplify and become more confident with the brush – this is extremely beneficial
* Because we are simplifying shapes we concentrate more on tone
* Because we are concentrating more on tone our plein air works will have life
* Because our outdoor works have more life about them, we capture the essence of a place – we become better artists all round!

Keeping it simple
Too much hauling of stuff can have a negative effect on your enjoyment so travel with a limited palette and small canvasses or boards so that a painting can be finished in an hour or so.
Keep your subject simple too, and if you do find yourself facing a complex scene, simplify it by cropping and chopping. Leave things out if it unbalances the whole picture and conversely put stuff in that helps the balance – always be in charge of the painting, we’re artists and we can change things at will!
Don’t let an ordinary scene get in the way of an interesting interpretation.

Mike Barr

Caption: Mike Barr plein air painting at Goolwa.

Artists and Colour

Every artist I can think of has their own style, even though they may not recognise it themselves. If we have been around the local art scene for a number of years, then artists work is often very recognisable to us - their style becomes a signature.

As well as signature styles, there is also a signature use of colour that many seem to have. It's all a part of how we develop over time. Some artist regard themselves as colourists and tend to use lots ofcolour, whereas others are limited in their use of it and use colour more of an accent than being the focus.

There is no doubt that certain colours have certain effects on us. Some colours or combinations thereof will not allow you to rest - they demand attention. A good red-based painting will draw attention every time at a show of mixed works, but may be difficult to live with once we get it home. On the other hand a calming almost monotone work may be easy to ignore in a gallery, but will calm your living area at home.

It's a well-worn phrase that there are 'no rules in painting' and that's right as far as producing work is concerned. However, if we want people to like what we produce and buy it, then we have recognise that there are things that work and things that don't. Whether it is abstract or traditional work, colour themes are very important.  Paintings can be colourful but liveable too if used in the right way.   Indiscriminate use of colour can make a painting hard to look at and can take away any focus that may have been intended by the artist.

Of course paint manufacturers would love us to purchase all 100 colours in their extensive ranges, but in reality it doesn't help the artist at all.  Having a limited core palette of about eight or so colours and a group of colours mainly for highlights is a good way to go. It will allow you to learn to mix any colour you need and having such a limited palette will tend to unify the whole painting - it really does work.

Also, while colour charts are interesting things, if you have to refer to them continually, it will ruin your painting flow completely. Learn to mix colours and it will become intuitive and a part of you as an artist - always having to refer to charts will stunt your growth and enjoyment.

There are always questions about brands of paint. The answer is simple - use the best you can afford.  Most of the more expensive brands are good and over time you will choose a favourite. Try comparing the cheaper and the dearer stuff and you will see the difference for yourself - always a good thing.

Colour is a wonderful thing but it is not the pinnacle of the painting process - that belongs to tone. Once we get tone right we can paint wonderful things in just one colour! More of that later.

Mike Barr

Caption - A painting of Goolwa produced on site. The limited palette produced a unified look to the work and if you look closely, you can see the same colours in the sky and water. The painting is all about the drama of afternoon shadows on the land and water and not so much the accuracy of colours.

What to Paint and Keeping it Simple

There is hardly a more vexing question for artists than "what shall I paint next?"

Unresolved, it can be a question that can last for days,  weeks or even longer! I don't think there is an artist alive that hasn't  wasted time in deciding what to paint, but I believe the issue becomes less urgent as the experience of time kicks-in.

Oddly enough, artists just starting out want to paint hard stuff - you know, busy complex scenes, ones that would cross the eyes of an experienced artist! What's more, they want to do it in the most difficult of mediums - namely, watercolour where there aren't many second chances.

Art is like music, you have to do the simple stuff and do it well, then you will have the confidence to move to more complex pieces. It's no use starting off learning music by trying to play Mozart, it's a sure recipe for depression and defeat. 

Let me tell you something, painting is a confidence game like most skills. In other words the confidence we build by painting the simple things will translate into confidence in the bigger more challenging works - it's just how it is.

I know there are different reasons why people want to paint and mainly it is as a form of enjoyment and relaxation. It is also a marvellous social outlet with people of like mind. There are those who want to get seriously better at it and those who want to make some kind of a living from it. All these reasons are valid, but everyone's enjoyment of painting is enhanced when they increase their ability to produce good work - just like playing music.

So, why not paint pleasant, simple things? I remember starting off doing hundreds of small, very simple seascapes and selling them on eBay. It was a training ground that had me growing in confidence which expanded into other subject matter. In the beginning repetition is good, it builds skill, confidence and enjoyment.

It's a good habit to carry a camera everywhere you go.  Phone cameras are perfect. It is easy to build up your own bank of photos that you can paint from and because you have taken the photo, the painting will have special meaning.

Not every great photo is going to translate into a great painting though. Some subjects are just better as photos. Blazing sunsets make a great photographs,  but are often real duds in a painting, yet we all seem to want a go at it. Green landscapes can similarly look enchanting in photography, but there are so few that can do green paintings well. I confess to avoiding them as much as possible! I often wonder why artists flock to Europe and the UK to paint, only to be confronted by green and more green! Artists in Australia are so lucky to live in the world's most paintable country.

Two or three apples on a white table cloth with a directed light upon them is a great fallback if you can't think of anything to paint. Shine up the apples so they are reflective and make a study of all the shadows, the light, the reflected light and reflected colour off the table cloth and adjacent apples. There is so much to observe and paint, yet the subject itself is so simple.  Getting the apples right will have you searching for other subject matter with renewed confidence!


Photo: Three Shiney Grannies, acrylic on canvas - Mike Barr 2008


Painting and the Magic of Mood

The are many types of paintings in the world, but I tend to divide them into two groups - those that have mood and those that don't. Sorting out works like that is not everyone's cup of tea, and it's not right or wrong, it's just how I look at things. In fact, there are paintings with mood that I don't particularly fancy, but they still project mood to the viewer.

There is a magic in a moody painting that draws us in.  Mood doesn't just mean dramatic, we can be attracted by art that is very calming, it might just be the thing we need to calm a room and those in the room! I once sold a painting of clouds to a lawyer who told me it was going to hang in his office so he could turn to it in times of stress and find peace of mind. The power of art can be greatly underestimated in our lives and paintings with the right mood can be beneficial to our state of mind. They can provide a great escape.

Often, the simplest paintings project the most mood, because detail can distract from it. A great exponent of this was Clarice Beckett, who is one of my favourite painters. Beckett was a plein air painter by necessity and she capture the spirit and atmosphere of Melbourne with her works. Confined to working out of doors and usually only able to paint either early in the morning or dusk, Beckett produced a lot of misty, moody painting that reflected the time of day when she worked.  The painting I have chosen as an example of her work is one of St Kilda Road at the end of the day. Anyone who has travelled on this road at the end of the day will recognise the mood she has captured.  The painting is devoid of minute detail and there is just enough information to convey the subject and mood.  Painting in this minimal way is an art form in itself because the natural inclination of artists, is to paint everything. Art is about interpretation, not about reproducing what is there – photographs can do that much better than we can. The artist that is free from the shackles of having to paint what is there is free indeed.

Not all paintings have mood and indeed they don’t have to, but they are the ones that draw people to them. A good moody painting will make viewers stop in their tracks and enter the scene before them – they will complete the story in their imagination.  You won’t see any of Clarice Beckett’s paintings at Artworx but you will see some great moody works. The story of her life and work is fascinating and well worth looking up – it’s inspirational!

Photo – Evening St Kilda Road, Clarice Beckett circ 1930
Art Gallery of NSW


The Wonderful Illusion of Impressionism

I like and enjoy many forms of painting, but like most artists, I have a favourite and that is impressionism. My introduction to it as a youngster was through Turners storm painting. As soon as I saw it I was hooked, but I didn't know why. When you look at this painting it lacks colour and it lacks detail, but what it does have, is drama - tons of it!  Even though this was painted before the French Impressionists got started, there is no doubt that it is one of the greatest impressionist paintings of all time.

So, what is it about impressionism that has such appeal?

As the word suggests impressionist paintings are all about impression rather than detail and this is why they are so popular. Atmosphere, mood and the effects of light and shadow are all paramount in this form of painting and these are the things that draw viewers into them. They are not visual accounts of everything the artist saw, but rather they capture the atmosphere of the moment, and this is the whole purpose of impressionism. Artists of this genre want viewers to identify with the mood they have created rather than tick off all the objects that could have been painted on the day.

Plein air painting – or that done on site, is the foundation of impressionism. The clatter of easels was common in the days of the French and Australian impressionists. Painting quickly outdoors ensured that detail came last and atmosphere came first.  There is no time for 1000-hour paintings outdoors, there is no time for excruciating detail or referral to colour charts. Things have to be gotten down on canvas quickly. Decisions have to be made as to what objects are going to be left out, what things to be added or moved. Darks, lights and tones become the important things and colour takes second place. When the painting is finished, it has to have the feeling of the day – of the moment, and this is the skill of impressionism. It is indeed a form of illusion, as all painting is, but more so in the way it can beguile the senses into believing the mood the artist has created.

The Australian impressionist were not just concerned with the effect of light however, they were capturing the Australian landscape like it had never been done before. Impressionism allowed them to capture that feel of the harshness and expanse of the land like traditional art was unable to. Roberts, Streeton, McCubbin, Conder and others established the rise of impressionism in Australia and their works have shaped how we have seen our history in those early days.  Seeing their works in the flesh always makes me stop like no other work does. It is life and illusion in paint.

Impressionism has grown into more abstract forms today but still retains enough realism for viewers to identify with. It is about telling the story, but not too much of the story! Enough space is given for viewers to add to it and become a part of it – it’s all part of the wonderful illusion of impressionism.

The Artworx Gallery has some great examples of modern-day impressionism and it is well worth taking it all in amid the picturesque river port of Goolwa.

Mike Barr


Snow Storm – Steam-boat off a harbour’s mouth (Turner)

The Amazing Life of Sold Work

I have a confession to make -  I never become attached to anything I paint.
This is not the experience of every artist and it almost seems cold and harsh that an artist who expends so much in producing an artwork, could possibly distance themselves from what they produce.

Actually, I love the subjects I paint and happily others love what I do too, it's a great combination.  For me, a painting unsold is a painting unfinished.  When a painting is loved by someone else, whether they buy it or not, it’s an artist's reward. When work sells, it is love manifesting itself in action and like marriage, it is the formal conviction of love and the wanting to be together.  To sell is a commitment that artists love and it's not just about the money, because even small stuff that can sell for very little produces the same satisfaction.

So, the thing is this; art that sells and moves on, does so into a different family ,  a different world and a new life begins. Unfortunately, artists are rarely given an insight into the life of things they create and sell, but sometimes we do!

Personally, I've had two glimpses into the lives of paintings that have 'moved on', but I will just mention one here.

The painting in question was one I had donated to an art show. It  was quite a nice painting of a beach path in acrylic.  A few years later I heard the amusing story of its turbulent early life from another artist who knew the person who won the painting.

The lady who won the painting proudly took it home and hung it in the lounge room. However, it didn't take long before the clash with the decor became too much and she wanted to sell it ( Note,  that this is a reaction of someone who did not buy the painting for love). Anyway, she found a buyer who was very happy to purchase it for a good price. The new owner took it home and hung it prominently and waited for the family to come home that evening to see it. All went well until the daughter came home and on seeing the work, burst into tears.

I must intervene in this story to tell you, that on hearing someone had cried on seeing my painting, I thought that I had reached some kind of pinnacle in my art journey to produce such an emotion.  The thought was short-lived!

The daughter had just broken up with her boyfriend in the very spot shown in the painting and of course, it just added to the sorrow of her day. So, the painting was moved on again and goodness knows where it is now.  I just know there are thousands of such interesting stories that may never be told, but what precious gems they are when they surface.

Sometime, I will tell you about the one that turned up in a second-hand shop!

Mike Barr


All Roads Lead To Artworx

I was very excited when asked recently by Liz and John, enthusiastic owners of Artworx Gallery and Gifts, if I could put together a regular art-related blog for the Artworx website. It gives me a chance to enthuse about art, the Artworx Gallery and Goolwa - what could be better than that! Yes, I'm certainly biased - but for good reason.

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Liz and John Francis

12 Hays Street
Goolwa, South Australia

Phone: (08) 8555 0949


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