‘Contemplate’ by Barbara Press

For many, silk painting is not an easy technique to master – the dye runs quickly across the fabric and once each brushstroke is applied, it cannot be removed – but for Balliang-based artist, Barbara Press, the demands of the craft are not a deterrent. In fact, after painting on silk for nearly ten years and refining her technique, Press says that painting quickly is the key to a good result. “What happens in my paintings just happens – and the quicker it happens, usually the better the painting will be.”

Barbara Press silk painting 2Detail from one of Barbara Press’s silk scarves. Image courtesy the artist.

Press’s silk artworks are currently on exhibition at The Munro Room along with a series of watercolours and prints. ‘Contemplate’ is Press’s first solo exhibition, comprising over thirty artworks in a variety of media, and reveal the artist’s ongoing interest in texture and layering.

“You find all sorts of interesting things in it,” she says of her more abstract works, in particular her prints. She invites the viewer to contemplate the artworks so an image can emerge. “The more you look, the more you see,” she says.

Barbara Press Proteas II detail
Barbara Press, Proteas II (detail).

Her silk paintings are created with layers of overlapping lines and luminous colours. It was the vibrant hues and fluidity of the medium that captivated her right from the start.

“It really is a beautiful way to paint. It feels like magic because the colours run into each other by themselves and then you get this beautiful colour combination. It is very relaxing and free,” she says.

Press’s flowing style belies the laborious process behind the works. First she draws her design onto the silk with a resist (gutta) after which she applies the dye. She then runs over the work with gold gutta and paints between the gold and the original resist. The process can take up to two days, depending on the size of the work. But the work isn’t finished yet – then the dye needs to be fixed and the fabric washed, dried and ironed, ready to be framed as an artwork or hemmed as a scarf.

Barbara Press Hydrangeas
Barbara Press, Hydrangeas.

To set the dye, Press wraps the silk in a special paper around a dowel and steams it over a  trough-like apparatus that she sets up on the stove in the kitchen. It is a delicate procedure to ensure the silk package doesn’t get wet. As Press can attest, any water on the material can spoil it. Once, after spending a few days on a commission piece, she completely ruined it when she accidentally dipped one end of it into the water. “It was a disaster, just dreadful,” she admits. “This is what happens sometimes when you are under pressure. Not everything you do is just A1.”

Barbara Press Proteas
Barbara Press, Proteas.

Despite the challenges of silk painting, Press finds it very satisfying. She describes herself as “adventurous”, enjoying the process as much as the final product. “I am experimenting and exploring where I am going next,” she says of the eclectic range of works in the exhibition. “I am contemplating where I’ve been, what I’ve painted, what I’ve done over the year, and just contemplating where I am going.”

Contemplate is on until 2 December at The Munro Room, 105 Lt Malop St, Geelong. Opening hours are 11am to 5 pm, Tuesday to Saturday.  Ph: 0425 557 742.

Barbara Press

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