artist interview - edith rewa barrett

Edith Rewa Barrett isn’t easy to pin down. The Sydney-based artist bounces between her hometown and the southern cities of Melbourne and Hobart; she dabbles in illustration, textile design and flower fossicking; and between all that collaborates with a host of other creative folk. With so much on the go, we were rather pleased to nab her for long enough to answer a few of our niggling questions.

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What is your name and how old are you? Edith Rewa Barrett, 24.

Where were you born and where do you live now? I was born in a little place called Yendon in rural Victoria, but I live in big, shiny Sydney now.

How does where you live affect your art? My surrounding landscapes and what they are full of have always been a stimulation for my work. Growing up in Yendon, I had my parents’ sprawling native garden and a special place called 'the back lane' bordering the back of our property, where I first began collecting little specimens to draw. In Tasmania where my parents now live, their garden space and the background mount always have my fingers itching to draw. I have been living in Sydney for the last few years and the NSW bush and its abundant flora and fauna have been, and continue to be, a huge inspiration for me. It is solely responsible for my latest collection of illustrated silk headscarves, Fossick.

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How did you get started with this medium? I'm not sure I can really remember! I think it came about as I was too messy for pencils – I'm a smudger! I like the permanence and crispness of pen work and it is an easy medium to have with you at all times if something pops up to jot down on the spot.

Are there any downsides to this medium? There will never be anything wrong with a good black pen!

Is there a running theme to the work you create, or do you just make whatever comes to mind? Natural history and Australia and plants. I could illustrate these ‘til I'm old and creaky and still be excited to pick up a pen. A lot of my work is about getting people to stop and appreciate the natural world and all of its goodies. I find textiles a pretty special way to give illustrations a new purpose; I see them as portable textile museums, as people go about their lives with little sprigs of wattle or grevillea to keep them company and remind them of our precious Australian bush.

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What makes your work unique and truly your own? At the moment I think it is the rickety line I explore between art, design and botanical Illustration.

How has your style changed over time? More detail, more scientific, more emphatic, perhaps. It is hard to take a step back and look at your own work in a linear way.

If you were to teach an art appreciation class, what kind of lessons would you try to teach your students? Don't start drawing/creating until you are really friendly with your subject. Look at it. Turn it over, roll it around, feel it and look again. Talk to it, listen a little, then pick up your pen.

What is the strangest thing or thought that has inspired a piece of work? Flower nipples!

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Are there any other mediums that you’d like to experiment with? So many, but I think the medium that has been niggling me for the longest is oil painting. My grandpa John is an incredible oil painter. We were always lucky enough to have his paintings on the walls of our house. They have tracked his life and ours so beautifully, but this has had my knees quaking a little with intimidation, so I’ve never ventured further than buying some turps and a small pack of oil paints.

What’s the coolest art tip you’ve ever received? I studied at the Art Academy in Tallinn, Estonia, for a semester during university, where learning was a pretty different experience from home. During one of my favourite classes there we were taken on field trips every week to the forest or the bogs or ocean and told to ''draw nature!'' (''Loodust joonistama!'')

What do you doodle when you are daydreaming? I have always had the same doodle pattern since we had a beige phone in the kitchen with a big curly cord and a pen above a stack of recycled paper. I'm not such a daydreaming doodler, but if I’m on the phone or in a class, I find it easier to concentrate and listen if my hand is off in its own little world! It is a kind of sprawl of abstract vegetation, a series of little markings and scribbles that come together as some sort of microforest or scrub.

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What would you be doing if you weren’t making art? That is a scary question… I would have so much free time! Aside from that I would love to learn more about plants, maybe a TAFE course in horticulture or some other plant-related learning activity.

Where can we see more of your work? or on Instagram @edithrewa.

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