Barbara Hanrahan has a large cast of women in her oeuvre. They are often joined by their daddys, sweethearts and valentines. It is not surprising that the matriarchy rules, given her father’s death the day after her first birthday. Hanrahan (1939-91) was left to raise Hanrahan with her maternal grandmother. Great aunt, and mother in Adelaide’s working-class suburb The barton.
Her characters are innocent and bold, and they hum, quiver. And jostle in this important salon-hung survey at Flinders Museum of Art. 180 works on paper, including woodcuts and linocuts as well as screen prints and lithographs and etchings and rare drawings. Paintings, collage, and dry points, are a testament to Hanrahan’s bold visual language.
They are complex and require an embodied engagement. It is important to be close-up, stretch. And bend in order to breathe the same air as what you are seeing. This show should be enjoyed, and the time taken to take in. The spices of the corseted, conical-breasted, gartered, and corseted women, the torrential sadness; the bitter aftertaste society’s hypocritical expectations; and the sweetness of childhood fond memories.
An Independent Women
Hanrahan was inspired by her mother’s commercial art work in a department shop. She originally trained as an artist teacher. She graduated in 1960 and began night classes at South Australian School of Art. There she made her first lithographs, etchings, and linocuts.
Independently-minded and more influenced by the drama of German expressionism that Australian printmakers Margaret Preston. Adelaide Perry, and Ethel Spowers than Australian printmakers. Hanrahan moved to London to pursue her creative goals a few years later.
She discovered pop art and burlesque and was a fan of it. However, she wasn’t a strong advocate for the Women’s Art Movement. Instead, she worked parallel and questioned beauty, social convention, and sexual preferences. She visited Australia often to exhibit, until she returned to Adelaide in the late 1970s with her partner.
It is not hard to remember that Barry Stern, a Sydney art dealer. Refused to show Hanrahan at his family gallery. In 1964, Kym Bonython, an Adelaide gallerist, received legal advice to stop her from exhibiting her etchings depicting naked men. Charis and Pat Larter, both Australian women artists, used explicit imagery in drawing and collage. Hanrahan’s characters, however, are often unaware or naive.
Ironically, Hanrahan was also call risk while she was being describe as too decorative in form and image. It was as if her technical expertise was a weakness. This is a stunning display of her technical accomplishment, with etchings like Earth mother 1975. And perfectly registered multi-coloured screen prints such as Moss-haired Girl (77).
Death And Life
Hanrahan’s interspecies ecosystems are populate with celestial bodies, English and Australian fauna and flora. An intertwining woman becomes a tree, branches grow from human trunks and crevices. Vulvas filigree into plants, birds nest in fibrous locks, Adam and Eve frolic in the moon. Angels float Chagall like through turbulent skies, and women hover as Ophelia over the Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park.
Her work is as important as the buzz of bees and the fluttering of the dove. They are all part of the natural order and fecundity that nature provides and their cycles of life and destruction. Recurring themes include twining, mirroring and double-dipping. Hanrahan, like Frida Kahlo has a fascination about birth, giving birth and self-realisation.
Hanrahan’s bizarre linocut Birth (1986), which depicts women with fully formed children in their stomachs or clothing, celebrates the curious inner child we all carry.
Abounding Women Heart
Hanrahan’s adventurous, desiring and fragile dreaming self has been reveal in more than 400 images and 15 books over the past three decades. She would often return to Iris Pearl, her grandmother, in her work. Hanrahan continued to explore the psychological underbelly and diverse characters from her neighbourhood that impressed her as a child.
She dispelled the socially demonizing forces of propriety and freed herself from the constraints of gendered stereotypes. Finally, she was able to peacefully accept her terminal illness through eastern and western spiritual practices.
Barbara died in Melbourne with a heart full of joy. Girl with dogs (1989), and The Angel (1991), are two iconic Australian images that celebrate Barbara’s mastery of line, and her intelligence of touch. This ambitious survey will ensure Barbara Hanrahan is a household name.