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Artist ‘coming out’

Monday, 24th September, 2018

‘Waterbag Tracks’ refers to the old maps that inspired the artist’s early exploration of the outback. ‘Waterbag Tracks’ refers to the old maps that inspired the artist’s early exploration of the outback.

An American-born artist who has called Broken Hill home for more than 40 years is about to present a major new exhibition at the Regional Art Gallery.

Clark Barrett has been painting and drawing since he first arrived to take up a job as art teacher at the Broken Hill High School in 1975, and his work is well known and much admired.

But the new show, which will feature about 54 works, is the first since he retired as an art teacher two years ago. 

“This exhibition is sort of my ‘coming out party’ as a professional artist,” said Mr Barrett.

The exhibition is called “Unwinding Road” and it opens at the Regional Gallery on Friday. 

Mr Barrett described himself as “one of Broken Hill’s many artists - but one with a bit of an unusual back story.”

He was born in Managua in Nicaragua where his father was an American diplomat, and spent his childhood travelling the world as his father took up postings to Ireland, Egypt and Spain.

“The travel lust I picked up from my father led to me accepting an art teaching position at Broken Hill High School in 1975,” he said. 

“In those days, the NSW Education Department couldn’t get people to teach out bush (it was the era of the ‘Wake In Fright’ book and movie, after all!) so they were flying in 747s full of foreign teachers to fill those positions.”

But the special light and the beauty of the landscape, so popular with filmmakers and artists alike, did immediately appeal to Mr Barrett. 

“My first ‘bush art trip’ was a drive out to the Nine Mile Road towards Purnamoota. I returned home within an hour thinking ‘there is absolutely nothing out there!’

“After that unpromising start, it still amazes me to this day that someone born where I was born (and with my American accent) still lives in Broken Hill 43 years later - and that I have found my inner and outer artistic landscapes here.”

In 1977, Mr Barrett resigned from teaching and during the 1980s used two old interconnecting pilot’s maps to drive out and explore properties within about a 300-kilometre radius of Broken Hill to seek inspiration. 

Eventually, however, it was back to teaching for a living.

“Although being a ‘starving artist’ was very romantic, the reality of supporting two young children resulted in me returning to Broken Hill High School in 1992.

“In 2016 I retired as Head Teacher of Creative and Performing Arts at the school. Again, in light of where I’ve come from, it was a surreal experience to look around during my farewell staff meeting and realise that I was the only one remaining from that original 1975 BHHS staff meeting.” 

But this opened up another opportunity to go back out bush.

“I accidentally fell into a job driving outback 4WD tours part-time for Tri State Safaris,” he said. 

“I immersed myself in our history - Broken Hill, Sturt’s journal, Burke and Wills, etcetera - during my 40 years of exploring this amazing landscape and used that information to inform my commentary while taking visitors to Mungo, White Cliffs, Cameron’s Corner and Innamincka.”

Those tours generated some of the images that will be on display at Friday’s exhibition.

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