Barbara Hanrahan

<strong>Barbara Hanrahan</strong></br>b. 1939, Adelaide SA - d. 1991</br><br/><i>Mother 1933</i> 1977</br>Screenprint, edn 3/14</br>78 x 59cm [image & paper]</br><i>Charles Darwin University Art Collection</i> - CDU183</br>Acquired by purchase, NTU Art Acquisitions Committee, 1993<br/>Image © and courtesy the artist's estate

Born during the first year of the Second World War, accomplished artist-printmaker and writer the late Barbara Hanrahan grew up in an all-women household under the care of her mother, grandmother and great-aunt, following her father's tragic death from tuberculosis when she was a young baby. Her childhood environment and experiences shaped her feminist perspective on the world and were reflected in the subject matter of her work, brought to the fore during the social and political turbulence of the 1960s, when her skills as a printmaker were acknowledged.

After graduating from Thebarton Girls Technical School in Adelaide, Hanrahan attended Teachers' College and the South Australian School of Art. She developed an early passion and proclivity for printmaking – excelling in screenprinting, lithography and etching techniques. Her German teachers Udo Sellbach and Karin Schepers, both skilled printmakers, were a formative influence. Hanrahan also drew inspiration from the work of German Expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) whose stark and powerful monochromatic woodcuts left an impression on her graphic work.

In 1963 Hanrahan continued her studies in London at the Central School of Art and Design where she was awarded a Diploma in Etching, with Distinction. She returned to Adelaide a year later to hold her first solo show at the Contemporary Art Society Gallery.

The siren call of London beckoned once more in the mid-1960s, when Hanrahan was appointed art lecturer at the Falmouth and Portsmouth Colleges of Art. She continued to alternate her travels between London and Adelaide with her partner Jo Steele until the late 1970s.

Hanrahan returned to Adelaide in the early 1980s. She was diagnosed with cancer in 1984 and temporarily recovered, resuming her artistic practice – both printmaking and writing – and her extensive travels with Steele. Tragically, her illness recurred and in 1991 she passed away, a few months after her 52nd birthday.

Hanrahan's oeuvre consistently captured the spirit of her times, from the perspective of a female pioneer at the forefront of the battle for gender equality and social liberation. She explored female archetypes of womanhood in her work: mother, daughter, virgin and object of desire.

Through the veiled layering of screenprinting, Mother 1933 recasts a photograph of the artist's mother taken a few years before Hanrahan was born. It was a subject she returned to frequently, becoming a vehicle for exploring the mother-daughter-artist relationship and a means of expressing her personal imaginings of womanhood and motherhood.

The patchwork collage of brightly patterned fabric (including flower and leaf motifs) recurs throughout Hanrahan's printmaking practice as domestic imagery drawn from memory. The cheerful, vibrant colours contrast sharply with the hollow blackened emptiness of the mother's eye sockets, the absence of eyebrows and her dark, slightly menacing, cupid's bow lips. A playful yet sinister impression is generated, at once formal and mysterious, reminiscent of a modern-day Mona Lisa.

Barbara Hanrahan is represented in many major Australian public art collections including the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Art Gallery of South Australia. Retrospective exhibitions of her prints were held at the Kensington Gallery in Adelaide in 1992 and at Carrick Hill, SA (The Divided Self: The Prints of Barbara Hanrahan, drawn from the AGSA Collections) in 2007.


Maria Zagala (Exhibition Curator), "The Divided Self: The Prints of Barbara Hanrahan", exhibition catalogue, 5 April – 30 June 2007.

Eileen Lim
Exhibitions and Collection Officer
27 August 2013

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