A journey through art
Aboriginal artist Mickelina ‘Micky’ Barlow is one of those people who, upon meeting, you feel like you’ve known forever.
As she shares the stories behind her paintings, wooden sculptures, homewares, and woven baskets, you’re transported to different parts of Australia. You can hear the rain bucketing down at Tipperary Station, Northern Territory. You can see her grandmother’s white hair blowing in the wind and smell the coalfires she’d use for cooking in the bush near Whyalla. It’s clear Micky’s art is inspired by places and people, and that her family is her lifeforce.
There have been many twists, turns, speedbumps and stalls in Micky’s art journey. The Kokatha woman, who has lived in Morphett Vale with husband Nick for the past five years, was a finalist in the prestigious Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize for 2018. She was an artist-in-residence for this year’s Reconciliation Week, and has held numerous successful art exhibitions and workshops with children and adults.
But her astonishing career as an artist very nearly didn’t happen.
Born in Loxton to an Aboriginal mother and Italian father, Micky had a country upbringing in Clare. A varied career saw her run her own cafe in Clare and rise up the ranks of the health and community services sectors. Micky took up art in 2006 as a way to relax and heal. It took her mind away from her high-pressure, high-responsibility work of supporting struggling families and victims of domestic violence. It also helped her deal with health issues arising from 27 years of suffering liver disease.
Micky’s health declined to the point she was told to get her affairs in order. But a liver transplant in 2012 gave her a new lease on life and the desire to focus on her wellbeing and achieve her goals. “Life’s too short,” Micky says.
After retiring from work, she took up art full time in 2016. But it was a hard slog as a solo artist and she was almost ready to give it away.
“I didn’t think people were interested in my stuff,” she says.
“I felt my more modern, contemporary style of art wasn’t what people were looking for.”
Fortunately, she received some well-timed advice from Tim Rollason, the co-ordinator of the City of Onkaparinga’s Arts Centre at Port Noarlunga. Micky says he encouraged her to “get out there and promote your work… talk to galleries, get a business card”.
“So I got off my backside and I did!”
A successful exhibition at the Arts Centre helped to solidify Micky’s self-belief. Further encouragement from Tim led her to the Fleurieu Arthouse — a council-supported arts hub based at Hardy’s Tintara at McLaren Vale — which began selling her work. When studio space opened up there she jumped at the chance, and enjoyed support from the team and fellow artists and the opportunity to discuss her work with visitors.
It was a fantastic stepping stone towards opening her own studio at 138 Main Road, McLaren Vale, in June.
It’s important to Micky to have somewhere she can connect with people interested in her art.
“She is very generous in sharing her stories with all who ask about her work,” says owner of Red Poles in McLaren Vale, Ros Miller, whom Micky credits as one of her mentors, along with Annie Rhodes from McLaren Unvaled, another early supporter of Micky and her work.
Micky’s art is an original take on the natural colours and traditional symbols passed down by her grandparents from their traditional homelands: the Central Western Desert near Alice Springs. She even has a treasured jar of ochre from there, which she ground down from stone herself in a mortar and pestle.
Micky also uses woodturning, French polishing and wood burning in her craft, skills she and her late father used to practise together.
Although some have asked why she doesn’t mass produce some of her work she’s adamant that everything must be authentic.
“They are handmade; no two are the same,” she says.
An Aboriginal Arts Grant through the City of Onkaparinga last year allowed Micky to have some of her work professionally photographed to make prints and to purchase boxes in which to beautifully package and sell her homewares.
Her art can be seen at the Stamford Grand in Glenelg, the Aboriginal Cultural Arts Centre in Aldinga, and Red Poles in McLaren Vale.
Micky loves running workshops with the community, including Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and victims of domestic violence. She shares skills such as basket weaving that are at risk of being lost.
She also loves working with her two young protégés, her grandsons, who are very keen to learn.
“They know where the paints are,” Micky says. “I love to watch them”.
For more information, follow Micky Barlow Artist on Facebook.
CREATIVE AND GENEROUS
Artist Micky Barlow in her studio (1); unique necklaces (2), paintings (3) and woven baskets (5) are often exhibited at the Fleurieu Arthouse (4).