Artist Profile: Rose Barton
From arts worker to practicing artist; Rose Barton lives, works, and breathes regional arts.
Having grown up Wardandi Country in the South West, Rose Barton has always been creative. After finishing school and trying different things, even living overseas and starting a few degrees, her creative flame continued to burn. It didn’t matter what she tried, the arts would always draw her back.
Rose Barton. Photo by Amelia Fearn.
Rose was introduced to the industry at a young age by her father, who co-founded CinefestOZ in 2008. She says her family are all creative in their own ways, she just happened to take it to the next level.
After completing a degree in fine arts and marketing at the University of Western Australia (UWA) in 2018, Rose spent the next couple of years bouncing around arts organisations in Perth before going back to study psychology and sociology.
During her time in the industry, she developed a passion for engaging with different community groups, and prioritised working within diverse communities. She honed her expertise at the peak body for the arts in WA, Artsource, running the youth program at DADAA in the disability space and volunteering with the Edmund Rice Centre in migrant communities and refugee communities.
PRose installs her artwork Thought Dwells In Emptiness at Old Customs House, 2020. Photo by Emma Daisy.
While Rose loved each and every role she took on, she says all of her experience was building towards her next big move – back to regional WA. Having spent a lot of time in the Pilbara on holiday, the country was familiar, and the prospect of living and working there was exciting.
Having lived regionally for most of her life, the shift from Busselton to Karratha wasn’t too difficult. There were obvious landscape and cultural differences, but the tight-knit community feeling was the same and Rose was able to find her place in the community quite easily.
Finding others interested in the arts to engage with was also pretty easy, thanks in part to the Aboriginal arts industry that spreads across the Pilbara. While many creatives are hobby artists, Rose says there are so many extraordinarily talented hidden artists to discover across the region.
Rose with her work Is the Tree Bent, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.
After spending some time working in the community, most recently as assistant manager at Cheeditha Aboriginal Art Group in Roebourne, Rose found she struggled to maintain her creativity outside of work hours. Passionate about her studies in psychology and sociology, she shifted her career focus to the social sector. Stepping away from roles in the arts industry has allowed her to reserve her creative energy for her arts practice, and her creativity has been through the roof ever since. The hardest part has been shifting her narrative from arts worker to artist.
Working, studying, and creating – Rose has a lot on her plate; but she embraces it with unyielding optimism. She has two passions in life, social sciences and art – and she refuses to let either of them go. Instead, she is striving to strike balance, letting both vocations co-exist and feed off each other.
Working in the social sector Rose continues to find ways to be creative, including recently conducting art mural workshops with women around family domestic violence advocacy. While it can be challenging, Rose finds synergy that exists between her passions.
Rose leads a group of Pilbara women through a creative workshop. Photo by Celeste Stephens.
In 2021, Rose won the Emerging Art Prize at the Cossack Art Awards. This provided her with a huge boost of emotional confidence, right as she began to step away from artswork to focus on her own practice. Backing up her win, she was also successful in receiving a Next Level Regional Grant to focus time on her creative development.
Driven by concept, more so than medium, a core part of Rose’s practice surrounds accessibility. Receiving the Next Level Regional Grant provided Rose with the freedom and confidence to experiment with new materials. She has been able to move away from painting and into sculptural and digital, combining tactile and auditory elements in her work.
She has enlisted the guidance of a mentor, Denmark-based Ruth Halbert, to help with conceptual development. Due to the distance between them, they have only been able to meet in person once; but their relationship is special to Rose.
Living and practicing regionally can be challenging at times. It is often harder to get the same kind of critique and engagement you might find in a larger city and finding people with material expertise can be difficult. This hasn’t stopped Rose, who is grateful for her time spent working in the industry for building up her connections. If she doesn’t know something herself – she knows someone who does.
If she has one recommendation for other young artists, it is not to be shy about approaching other artists for help. Unlike other industries, there isn’t an atmosphere of secrecy and competitiveness. Everyone is more than happy to assist, and often the relationship can be beneficial for everyone.
Rose with mentor Ted Snell at the opening of her curatorial debut Herenow21 Dispersion. Photo by Emma Daisy.
Everything Rose has been working on for the last year has been leading up to her first solo exhibition in Karratha, due to be held in September. She has planned a series of public artworks and interventions, responding to broad themes to incarceration and confinement
While preparing for this exhibition, Rose has spent time conducting extensive, practical, sociological and psychological research into her themes. Her work in the social sector has helped inform her research as she has been able to hear from people directly about their experiences with the justice system and has access to an evidentiary base of knowledge and statistical information.
Rose believes we should be looking at intervention means that prevent people from going to prison in the first place. This includes raising the age of criminal responsibility from just 10 years old. Some of her works explore the concept of justice reinvestment and how we can support people in the community in other ways. She wants to convey these ideas from a perspective of human empathy and understanding, and open people’s eyes to the environmental and generational impacts that influence human behaviour.
In Rose’s eyes, poverty, injustice and discrimination exist across a whole spectrum of communities and any changes we can make have huge flow-on benefits.
Rose Barton, The Outside of Gum Trees and the Inside of Jail Cells, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.
Rose says her work sits in a broader context, and presents the audience with alternative perspectives. She does not insert herself into a position of experience, and advocates for those with firsthand knowledge.
As she explores these concepts in her work, she strives to provide accessible platforms and space for lived experience voices to be heard. In some ways, conveying her perspective as a person with relative privilege can be more relatable to some audiences who engage from a point of similar experience.
Ultimately, Rose asserts the most important voice in any room is the one with lived experience and we should all be listening.