Written By: Caitlin Cecic
Twenty-seven tiny islands create a tranquil scene for the best art gallery for miles around. Displaying artwork of clear water, sandy beaches, and textured sea creatures, The Big Barge Art Centre found a home on the West Island of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Not only does the art make it worthwhile to visit the islands, which are territories of Australia, but take a look outside for the source of inspiration between the sweet coconut palm trees and a whole lot of water.
Located in the ocean’s backyard, The Big Barge once worked as an actual barge. Originally used to haul timber, this large boat was abandoned and pulled onto shore and into the jungle years ago. With the small size of the island, it is not surprising that someone stumbled across the vessel and immediately recognized its potential. Raised on the island, artist Emma Washer made frequent visits to the barge before coming up with the perfect idea for its use. To get the project going, Washer and other locals spent months moving the ten-ton boat to its current home. After a complete restoration, the art center opened in August of 2009. Since then, the barge has become home to a gallery, a working artist studio, and multiple art courses.
As a local artist, Washer creates work that conveys the grandiose nature of the islands. Washer enjoys creating all types of art, including jewelry, paintings, and mixed media pieces. Recently, she has experimented with drift from the ocean. For example, in her “Funky Sweetlips” screenprints, she places the stamp of a fish on the screen. After searching for ocean drift on the beach, she stamps the textured pieces the screen, creating the impression of a live fish. In “Blue Lagoon,” Washer represents the movement of the sea, displaying equal-sized squares of drift in multiple rows. Staring at this mixed media piece gives you a sense of the uniqueness of each sea wave.
Just as the sea houses a variety of sea creatures, so does the gallery hold a variety of artists’ work. Karen Willshaw’s “The Junkong” is a high-quality photograph that captures the simplicity of a man with his sailboat. The bright red sails offset the transparent water as the boat glides to shore. Photographer Cara Ratajczark takes a different approach in her print series that hones in on different parts of a ship. In “Weathered,” for example, the viewer can concentrate on the smallest detail of a ship’s side. In this print, the ship is clearly old because the wood has been painted multiple times over the years as each color faded. Even though the picture does not include the entire boat, it conveys a sense of the strength of the ship and how long it has lasted.
If you cannot make it out to the islands, The Big Barge sometimes hosts art exhibitions on the Australian coast. For example, the Art Adrift Exhibition Fremantle Festival, from October 26 to November 10, 2014, will display artwork at Fishing Boat Harbour. Visitors will get the chance to see what happens when you combine the culture and experiences of residents from the islands and West Australia.
For more information about the festival or The Big Barge art gallery, visit their website at http://thebigbargeartcentre.com.au/