“I’m drawn to Lyell Bary’s bold choice of colours. He’s transformed the smooth contours of wood grain into a wild, psychedelic ride. By making simple alterations to this ordinary material, he invites us on a bizarre sojourn to a state of altered consciousness.”
– Emily Poore, Curatorial Assistant, UQ Art Museum
About the artist
Brisbane-based artist Lyell Bary paints bold, monochromatic forms on plywood to create images that evoke the psychedelic age, and reflect on the rhythms and harmonies of nature. Born in 1960 in Picton, New Zealand, Bary moved to Australia in 1981 and established himself in Brisbane. He developed his art practice later in life, and was in his thirties when he first exhibited professionally in a group show at Ric’s Café, Brisbane (1993). Since then, Bary has held solo exhibitions in Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Auckland, and has been included in numerous group shows in New Zealand and Australia. In 2006, Barry was commissioned to create a series of eight paintings for the Mater Mothers’ Hospital in Brisbane.
About the work acquired
Prozac painting: Bird (1995) and Prozac painting: Owl (1995) are representative of Bary’s broader practice. Like many examples of the artist’s work, the contours of his design replicate the forms of the rings and knots of his painting’s plywood support. To create the works, Bary traced the curves of the wood grain in pencil, and then filled in the shapes with several layers of paint to create a matte finish.1 The bold, simple blocks of colour create geometric patterns that contrast with the natural tones of the wood. The shapes are reminiscent of pairs of eyes, pointed beaks and feathered tails, and suggest flocks of birds. Bary acknowledges the influence of Surrealist artist Max Ernst (1891–1976) who used timber to make rubbings that recalled plants and animals.2 Bary’s work also shares aesthetic similarities with paintings by the American artist Robert Indiana (1928–) who, during the 1960s, created hard-edge psychedelic designs based on silhouettes of gingko leaves.3
The titles of the two works allude to the drug Prozac, an anti-depressant medication known to cause hallucinations. By making this connection, Bary presents the birds as psychedelic visions that have emerged from the wood pattern due to a trick of the mind. In the year these works were created, Prozac was a significant theme in Bary’s work. He explored the subject in several other paintings shown at his Prozac painting exhibition, including Plywood is basically timber on Prozac; Can Prozac be the LSD of the 90s (Positive); and Can Prozac be the LSD of the 90s (Negative) (all 1995). The references to ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ in these titles refer to the AIDS epidemic, which attracted international attention in the 1980s and 1990s, and claimed the lives of many prominent members of the gay and arts communities. Prozac was often administered as an antidepressant to HIV-positive patients, and, because of interactions between the drug and anti-viral medications, was prescribed in high doses that were more likely to induce hallucinations.4 As a gay man, these issues would have personal significance for Bary.
Prozac painting: Bird and Prozac painting: Owl were donated to The University of Queensland by Michael Eliadis through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program and join several other works by Bary in the Collection. In one, I miss you but I haven’t met you yet, also of 1995, Bary painted fragments of pop songs along the wood grain in colours and style reminiscent of 1960s psychedelia.
Adapted from text by Olivia Back, Curatorial Volunteer and Emily Poore, Curatorial Assistant, November 2015.
1. Mater Health Services, Art for life: The art program commissioned for the Mater Mothers’ Hospitals, http://static.placestories.com/pool/story/0010/0024163/lo/doc.pdf, 6.
2. Lyell Bary, Prozac painting (Brisbane: Isn’t Gallery, 1995), cover.
3. Logan City Council, Logan City Art Collection (Logan City: Logan Art Gallery, 2007), 8; Robert Indiana, “Ginkgo,” Robert Indiana: Work, http://robertindiana.com/works/1007/.
The ginkgo, a Chinese tree which is common in New York City, carries sexual connotations. It reproduces via swimming sperm cells that are contained inside its seeds. Refer to Ned Friedman, “The swimming of the Ginkgo sperm,” The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University Director’s blog, http://www.arboretum.harvard.edu/the-swimming-of-the-ginkgo-sperm/.
4. “Fluoxetine (Prozac),” National AIDS Manual – AIDS map, http://www.aidsmap.com/Fluoxetine-iProzaci/page/1731396/.