Dorothy Berry – Bird on a Wire: Arts Project Australia

Dorothy Berry – Bird on a Wire, shows at the Arts Project Australia

Dorothy Berry’s Bird on a Wire retrospective at the Arts Project Australia Gallery in Northcote is a culmination of twenty years work through the studio. It is curated by Maxine Ryder, former director of Arts Project Australia in the late 1980’s, when Berry was completing her earlier works.

The Arts Project Australia is a project that works to facilitate artistic expression, through a number of mediums, for people living with disability, with the aim of exhibiting their artists’ work in both commercial and public spaces. Workers with a strong artistic background introduce various mediums and modes of expression to artists whose backgrounds have made it difficult to have access to a formal education in fine arts.

Berry works mainly with pastel on paper, occasionally using acrylic, ink and pencil. Throughout this experimentation with this variety of mediums, she has remained thematically consistent throughout her years as an artist, with the show having been curated by Ryder accordingly. Birds and animals, religion, autobiography, and royalty, each theme has been grouped together, rather than having the works grouped chronologically.

The strongest pieces are the collaborative works that Berry did with Ryder in the mid 1990’s as part of her show Cut it Out! These pieces are Berry’s images writ large; acrylic on MDF that has been cut out, creating a bold number of images including Pat Potter, My School Friend (1995) and Kitty (1995). Also featured in this section are several smaller drawing works in pencil and ink, including the hardcover book (Not titled, 13 pages in hard cover, 2002). Because these works are displayed as is, there is an intimacy of craft depicted that is sometimes harder to access behind the glass covered framings of some of her larger, more colourful works.

Also included in this area are a variety of works that refer to her autobiographical past, drawing mainly from childhood, as well as depictions of the royal family, and more specifically Princess Diana. A memorable piece in this grouping is a work that is a written account of an accident that Berry had in childhood where she spilled boiling water on herself. The repeated and seemingly surprised mantra that she writes of “nature marvellous what they do” indicates a certain bemused reflection on the traumatic event. That your eye is then carried to Princess Di gives an impressionistic account of Berry’s reflection on her own life events and how these carry through to public events around her.

Berry’s bright pastels and darker, smaller accounts of her life and the objects and animals make a strong impression to the viewer. She goes from simple line drawings to crowded larger works always with a certain clarity about the images that she wants to depict, from the segmented women’s bodies in the autobiographical section, to the darker, more solid palettes of her depictions of religious figures and nuns. Her sense of humour and joy in her art are the strongest things to take away from the show, of an artist consistently enjoying and exploring her medium.

Dorothy Berry – Bird on a Wire, shows at the Arts Project Australia until the 6th of June, 24 High Street Northcote.

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