Arts & Culture

Barbara Nell and the Art of Connection

By Maryann Weston 20 December 2018

Art Agent Barbara Nell with two of the paintings she is currently working on. Photos: Maryann Weston.

Whether it’s pondering the depths of Edvard Munch or getting stuck into leading a local Christmas card making workshop, self-described Goulburn-based ‘art agent’ Barbara Nell is ready for action. Her role…always connecting you with art.

Artist and educator for over 35 years, Barbara has been a primary, high school and TAFE art teacher. More recently, she’s been running adult art workshops and travelling to Canberra for her work as an early childhood art facilitator. Quite simply, she knows her art.

“I’ve always lived in my own world of art and music and those two areas developed together. Art…creativity is absorbing, calming and right for me,” Barbara said.

>From her early childhood in Ballarat visiting the art gallery there on rainy days, art has been a constant, and, although working briefly in an art gallery when she was younger, it’s the ‘doing’ she enjoys. She’s been busy teaching and facilitating, and exhibiting across NSW and interstate. In 2013, she became an artist-in-residence at Arte Studio Ginestrelle in Assisi Italy. Again in 2015, she explored printmaking at a residency in Venice.

“Historical and contemporary Europe is an influencer of my art. When I was in Italy, the art I’d seen in textbooks made sense, as I was able to see those works in relation to the actual physical environment that inspired them,” Barbara said.

And while art trends can influence some artists, for Barbara, independence and art ‘on her terms’ are critical. She describes herself as a figurative painter. It’s a challenging style because it represents the ‘real world’ and, often, the human form.

“So much can go wrong with this style of painting; it’s edgy. At the moment, I’m experimenting with night paintings and finding the source of light within them.”

Most of her figurative paintings have been recreated from actual scenes she witnessed in Italy; a street parade, a dance, people living and socialising, and all depicting movement.

“I paint from memory, drawings and photographs. There’s always an uncertainty while I’m painting. Technically, where do I get the light from, and the movement of the people represented – movement always creates uncertainty.”

Regardless of the challenges, she likes to ‘stick to her guns’ with her art and pursue the subject matter. “ I like to set my own goals.”

As well as being busy running art workshops for adults through the Goulburn Community College at WorkSpace2580, she’s also working with four-year-old children at an early learning centre in Canberra.

“I’ve always worked with primary and high school students but this year I’m working with early childhood students using the Reggio Emilia Approach which considers art as central to their learning. Children learn through expressing themselves and through play. It’s inquiry-based learning,” Barbara said.

Goulburn Artist Barbara Nell describes herself as a figurative painter. It’s a challenging style because it represents the ‘real world’ and, often, the human form.

Her work with adult learning is equally dynamic. Workshops organised through WorkSpace 2580 for adults recovering from mental health issues, and Ability Links NSW which assists people with disability explores art as therapy, and art for change.

“Art can change your sense of what you can do and make and can help cognitive processes. It is a powerful way to cross boundaries,” she said.

“In schools, art is one of the first things that is showcased to the community, along with music, because it is about our culture, and culture offers connection.”

It’s this philosophy – connection – that is behind her action-oriented role as an ‘art agent’; bridging the space between the artwork and artist, and the audience.

“Whether it’s a workshop or as an art guide, I can connect you with the stories. A lot of art galleries have become shrines in our time. Someone says an artwork is important; it is there, enshrined, but is it good or not? Anyone can connect to art, and I’m really passionate about that.”

In 2019, she’ll be connecting, teaching and working on more community projects.

“And I’ll be pursuing the shadows, the night, in my painting, and finding the sources of light.”

You can learn more about Barbara Nell, educator and ‘art agent’, here.

Original Article published by Maryann Weston on the RiotACT.

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