Multilayered worlds are a combination of the virtual and the painterly


Rendered in shades of grey, James Barth’s painterly avatars bear an eerie likeness to the artist, caught somewhere between self-portrait and selfprojection. In Gleaming, I’m shown 2021 (illustrated), the bodily forms of the two lounging, plaid-clothed characters mock skeletal norms. The legless figure sitting in the background is paper-thin, and the arms belonging to the person lying in the mid-ground appear to be as malleable as plasticine.

James Barth ‘Gleaming, I’m shown’

James Barth, Australia b.1993 / Gleaming, I’m shown 2021 / Oil screenprinted and brushed on aluminium composite sheet / 86 x 69cm / Private collection, Brisbane / Image courtesy: James Barth & Milani Gallery, Brisbane

James Barth ‘Umbrage seen’

James Barth, Australia b.1993 / Umbrage seen 2021 / Oil screenprinted and brushed on aluminium composite sheet / 110 x 90cm / The Diamantina X Collection, Brisbane / Courtesy: James Barth

DELVE DEEPER: Find out more about the artists in ‘Embodied Knowledge’ 

Barth trained as an oil painter but abandoned this medium in favour of deconstructing and remodelling the artist’s own reality through a novel, multilayered method. Barth first builds and bends virtual worlds and avatars in open-source computer graphics software. These images are then transferred to silk-screens and printed onto boards in varying shades of smoke, pewter, slate and charcoal. The wet paint is then brushed to create a blur that softens the crisp lines of the synthetic imagery. The resulting artworks are a remarkable combination of the virtual and the painterly.

There is a sense of voyeurism when peering at Barth’s artworks, because of the intimacy depicted in their spaces. The figures sit somewhat awkwardly in their computer-generated boudoirs, sun-bathed courtyards and share‑house kitchens with mismatched crockery and overflowing green waste bins. Dinner party ingredients and vegetation in From potluck to compost 2021 (illustrated) are decomposing atop a table still littered with non‑biodegradable objects, such as plates, a spoon, water jug and cup.

The artist often infuses these scenes with an unnerving, even uncanny, sense of time: dripping paint, water running from a hose, or a lemon decomposing. These suspended events are often the integral elements that make these photo-paintings by Barth so arresting.

Edited extract from Embodied Knowledge: Queensland Contemporary Art, QAGOMA, 2022 available from the QAGOMA Store and online

James Barth ‘From potluck to compost’

James Barth, Australia b.1993 / From potluck to compost 2021 / Oil screenprinted and brushed on aluminium composite sheet / 86 x 107cm / Private collection, Brisbane

‘Embodied Knowledge: Queensland Contemporary Art’ is in Queensland Art Gallery’s Gallery 4, Gallery 5 (Henry and Amanda Bartlett Gallery) and the Watermall from 13 August 2022 to 22 January 2023.