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A closer look at This Hopeful Shack

A closer look at This Hopeful Shack

Regional Arts WA

This story was submitted by a member of the regional arts sector: Jenny Barr. We love sharing stories from the sector. If you want to find out how to submit your own stories, take a look at the submit your story page. We can’t wait to hear from you!


It has taken me a while to choose the one image which most represents the body of work for my upcoming exhibition ‘This Hopeful Shack’.

It was hard because all my images are at my fingertips, as I work on a digital platform; unlike if I had to take a photo of works on canvas, then I’d have to decide on a work to picture, get lights, find a backdrop etc.

In trying to be my own marketing engine, working out that one really good image which resonates has been fraught… there’s been the overthinking of “is it the one?” Does it say the most… is it too pink, or black, or manly, or girly?

In the end I chose Sanderson Koala, seen above, from 25 other works to represent my first solo show. This was due to its timeliness but also because it’s about the next work I do: A decision akin to a poet leaving a sentence unfinished at night.

I’m an archaeologist, a historian and an artist whose main practice is drawing. I like drawing and I like all these times to be in one drawing if possible. As Simon and Garfunkel say “Time, time, time… see what’s become of us.” East coast Artist Ben Quilty has “Irish skinned convict stock on Gundungurra land” on his Insta page. He is specific about who he is and where he is at this time. I like it. I can tell you that this shack that I draw and live in sits on Wadandi country, in the isolated South West of Western Australia. And that I am a mix of 6th generation convict and migrant Scottish mother.

Jenny Barr. Picture by Kendra Benson Photography.

But before this shack something very interesting happened. We went to buy a blank piece of coastal land and when we were given the original title paperwork, all flowy cursive and fairly indecipherable except for the iconic Crown stamp.

My first thought was; “this is the piece of paper that stole the land.” I still have that piece of paper. I have pondered its existence, looked the names up, and tried using software to read and copy its cursive script (which didn’t work, by the way).

With a deadline of March 2020 koala teapots, linoleum, sharks and the personal flowed into lines. I read Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas 7 times. The drawings became about the layers of accumulated time and the passing of nature through our lives, about an underlying danger, wildness, sadness, humour and a hope for something to change. Under Milk Wood shaped their words with a little bit of E. E. Cummings thrown in.

And I scribbled in cursive.

At the time of drawing the koala teapot – a Japanese product – the East coast wasn’t on fire, but as these catastrophic events unfolded and I finished the drawing, another Invasion Day had passed. This happened along with the tragic destruction of koalas, and their habitats, and the words “always was, always will be” found themselves scribbled into the blackened serving tray underneath the Sanderson Print – an English Fabric Company.

Down The Road, Cowaramup Bay, Jenny Barr 2019.

I find the quiet way objects exist in a domestic environment, objects the inhabitants have specifically chosen as an aesthetic reminder of nature, a nature with all the wild missing, very interesting. “Always was, always will be.” They are beautiful poetic powerful simple inescapable words.

Simon Schama writes that our language grows from the distinctive natural world around us but with the passing of time we have simply forgotten and/or chosen to forget how we came to have those words in our mouths. I wish to quietly draw the layers of the words we don’t speak about our domestic life.


Jenny Barr’s exhibition, This Hopeful Shack, a year of living in a 1970’s beach shack in drawings, will open from 4 – 30 March, 2020 at the Margaret River HEART Gallery space, 51 Wallcliffe Road. It will feature 25 drawings and opening night will be held on Friday 6 March from 6 – 8pm. For more information contact Jenny on jennypottsbarr@gmail.com.

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