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Lucy Barry: Painting With Bipolar Disorder

Nov 21, 2018
Article by Claire Van Ryn

How did art become a part of your life?

I’ve always painted, since I was about six-years-old. I come from a very creative family. My grandmother was a painter and a potter, my grandfather and uncle were into photography, my aunt was a printmaker, my dad was a musician and artist, and my mum was an orchestral musician too. There was always a lot of encouragement for me to be creative.

You haven’t always invested a lot of time into your artistic practice. What changed for you recently?

I always feel compelled to create, but I’ve been able to pursue painting more lately as my children are older (they’re 12 and 16 now). I started my first body of work as part of art therapy. That was only last year but it was the catalyst for me getting back into it. I’ve had bipolar disorder the majority of my life and I had a bad year last year. In a weird way, my painting came out of that. I suddenly realised how much I needed art to express myself. It’s like making my inner world physical. So often it feels like my mental illness has taken over my life. The paintings scattered all over my house remind me that I have a place in the world, that I’m not invisible.

How has your mental health affected your art practice?

I’ve enrolled in fine arts twice at university and I just haven’t been able to manage it. It takes all my strength just to do the day-to-day, to run a household and care for my kids, so I’m self-taught. I’m ok with that. In terms of the actual process, my emotions drive my art a lot. I do my best work, when it just flows intuitively. My latest series “Conflict”, is quite raw, lots of grief and loss and even rage. Right at the moment, I’ve had a breakthrough with my treatment, so I’d like to perhaps explore the theme of “Hope” in my next series.

And that’s going to make this question tricky, but let’s give it a bash. Can you describe your unique approach to art?

It’s about combining colours and textures that are evocative. I don’t base my artwork on anything in real life, it’s purely abstract. I work in layers, adding more and more layers so you can see parts peeking through. I rework a painting many times until I get it “right’, which also builds layers and adds to the sculptural quality. It’s something you can hang on the wall and yet it has a three dimensional feel.

You have a penchant for using strange materials in your artwork. Give us some examples.

Caustic soda –that does some really weird stuff. Joint compound and gap filler mixed into paints. Coffee grounds and biteman without the gravel, which has a wonderful translucent quality to it. Rubbing alcohol, salt, foil, tissue paper, chalk powder and my beloved heat gun. I’m an artistic alchemist!

Any future plans?

Like most artists, I would like to make a living from my art and commit more time to it. I still dream of going to Uni or TAFE to study. But for now I want to continue to tap into my creativity, work on my skills and personal style whilst getting my art out there and seen.

Photos by Andrew Johnstone & Lucy Barry

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