Five Minutes With... / UQ Community

Art lover, scientist and generous donor: Professor Ross Barnard

For Professor Ross Barnard, Director of UQ’s Biotechnology Program, art has been a lifelong interest. According to his mother, Ross drew obsessively as a child, and in 1968 took out first prize for his painting in the primary school art prize. While science would become Ross’s lifelong vocation, his enthusiasm for art persisted and grew. We chatted to him about his recollections of UQ Art Museum over the years and why he and his wife Bing have joined the Art Museum’s community of donors.

It appears you were quite the artist as a child, has this continued in your adult life, and do you still have your award-winning work?
Unfortunately none of the works from my early period survived, but my interest in art did! I still paint, and my wife Bing and I travel extensively to see art exhibitions and have done so for a couple of decades at least.

You began working at UQ in 1982…do you recall when you first visited UQ Art Museum and what drew you inside?
Actually, I graduated with my PhD in Mayne Hall, the building that now houses UQ Art Museum. While I don’t remember the specific exhibition that drew me in the first time, Bing and I have visited regularly, often wandering in at weekends and attending functions there.

Is there a particular exhibition at UQ Art Museum that has stayed with you over time?
It’s hard to pin down one in particular, and I find that certain works stay in my mind, rather than exhibitions. The National Artists’ Self-Portrait Prize exhibition is excellent (Archie Moore’s Black dog was a favourite). The Margaret Olley watercolours exhibition was superb as was ‘Australian Portraits’. I liked the Healy and Cordeiro sculptures; I recall some striking images of the exploding space shuttle, made of Lego bricks. Occasionally I spot excellent works around the University as well, tucked away in the Brian Wilson Chancellery, or on display in the Duhig Building or at Customs House, to name a few.

We are very grateful to you and your wife for your generous support of UQ Art Museum. Can you share with us what compels you to support UQ Art Museum?
I like working with and supporting smart, creative, young people, who think differently, and who are driven to achieve something extraordinary and positive with their lives. It’s the core purpose of the University, isn’t it? It’s great to see creativity nurtured and breaking through, despite all the difficulties that can thwart scholarship and creativity. An art museum is a direct and brilliant expression of this mission.

What would you say to your students in the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences who may not know about or have visited UQ Art Museum?
Drop in and have a look. It’s interesting, challenging and conducive to meditation and lateral thinking.

Do you have any views about the intersection between art and science?
Yes. Both are intensely creative and frustrating processes, though many scientists and artists don’t recognise the unity of their creative enterprise.

Does your profession influence the type of artwork that interests you, or do you treat the two separately?
It’s not something I look for necessarily, but I don’t treat them separately either. A great uncle of mine was an electrical engineer who turned his hand to pottery/ceramics at the age of 51. He became a leading light in Australian pottery, working until he was 90. He built the first Bernard Leach-style potters’ wheel in Australia (it’s now in the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney), and some of his work is in the National Gallery of Victoria, the National Gallery of Australia, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and in private galleries. People and their creative works don’t fit neatly into categories or expectations. I like things that defy assumptions (about people).

Read how you can support UQ Art Museum or join the Director’s Circle here

Professor Ross Barnard Photo: Kaylene Biggs

Professor Ross Barnard
Photo: Kaylene Biggs