‘Plant Your Feet’ by Glenn Barkley

Glenn Barkley is an artist, writer and curator who has spent a large part of his life living and working amid the picturesque mountain ranges and meandering beachside vistas of The Shoalhaven, a place on the NSW South Coast that is both splendid in natural beauty and rich in history, culture and creativity.  

Glenn Barkley Shoalhaven still life, 2022, earthenware and lustre. Photograph: Jules Boag. Courtesy the artist, Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney and Shoalhaven Regional Gallery

Curated by Barkley, this community project and exhibition titled ‘Plant Your Feet’, which is on at Shoalhaven Regional Gallery until 28 January 2023, presents a series of newly created ceramics by Barkley alongside a display of paintings, objects, and curios, including geological specimens and other earthly relics from the archives and collections of south coast museums and galleries accompanied by artworks from local artists and members of the Shoalhaven community that altogether celebrate, critique and explore the history, people and magic of the region.

Barkley is known for making unique earthenware pots, urns and sculptural pieces inspired by his passion for gardening, literary works and poetry, the history of people, place and time, and the deep connection he has to the Shoalhaven region where he grew up, an idyllic environment that continues to invigorate and inspire him on a deeply personal note and artistically – “it’s the landscape of my dreams,” he shares.

Each of Barkley’s hand worked pieces are quirkily balanced in their imperfect shaping. The repetitious stippling of tiny holes and impressions form the artists signature base-pattern for the colourful glazed motifs and symbols he uses to embellish his works and tell his stories.

Installation view. Courtesy the artists and Shoalhaven Regional Gallery

‘Plant Your Feet’ features a vibrant still life composition of Barkley’s pots and sculpted objects that draw upon the human and natural characteristics of the Shoalhaven region. For example, there is an homage to the Wandandian Wombats football team, childhood nostalgia comes flooding back with the artist’s depiction of a red rocket at a children’s playground in Bomaderry, and a menagerie of birds and wildlife are also focal.

Barkley’s newly created wallpaper wraps the gallery walls in a motley collage of colour and imagery where ornamented urns and vessels have become beautifully decorated perches for honey eaters, finches, parrots and owls. Adding another layer to the curatorial premise of the show are paintings by Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists from the past 150 years that highlight the Shoalhaven landscape across a range of styles. Works include painterly interpretations by artists such as Conrad Martens (1801-1878) and Samuel Elyard (1804-1865) and more contemporary works by Aboriginal artists such as Rueben Brown and Mona Brown, to name a few.

The final component of ‘Plant Your Feet’ is a large installation that brings the Shoalhaven community together through the rendering of a small house clad in clay tiles created by a team of local collaborators sharing their visions, experiences and memories of life in the Shoalhaven.

Installation view, ‘Plant Your Feet’. Courtesy the artists and Shoalhaven Regional Gallery

“Barkley is making art both as a practitioner and interpreter. And with his visual knowledge he has also approached this exhibition as custodian. Wanting to think more critically about the region in which he spent his childhood and teenage years, Barkley has dug deep into local Museum and private collections to find source material, not just to respond to, but to present in context with his new work.”

“Plant Your Feet looks at obscure histories of the Shoalhaven as well as acknowledging the many Indigenous communities and custodians of the region,” the gallery explains.

Public program: Workshop: Hand make your own unique clay work in a 1-hour workshop. The gallery’s Clay Playground workshops are open to all ages and will be running at regular intervals from 11 to 28 January. Panel Discussion: Glenn Barkley will host an insightful panel discussion exploring the history of collecting in museums, uncovering hidden voices through objects, and modernising the institution on Saturday, 21 January from 2-4pm.

Shoalhaven Regional Gallery is located in Nowra and is open Tuesday to Friday 10am-4pm, Saturday 10am-2pm. Closed 23 December until 10am, 3 January.

Why not map out your own South Coast art and history trail by visiting Wollongong City Gallery, Jervis Bay Maritime Museum, Berry Museum, Nowra Museum and Sydney Living Museums: Meroogal Historic House, to name a few. Check websites for opening times and programs.