From South African 'Farm Girl' to International Artist: Natasha Barnes Is Enjoying Her 'Journey of Great Discovery.' Chances Are, You Will, Too

By Casgar, Susanne | Art Business News, June 2006 | Go to article overview

From South African 'Farm Girl' to International Artist: Natasha Barnes Is Enjoying Her 'Journey of Great Discovery.' Chances Are, You Will, Too


Casgar, Susanne, Art Business News


"I may look grand as an artist at the Artexpo, but I'm really just a farm girl who likes to have dirt underneath my fingernails," says South African artist Natasha Barnes.

Born in the small town of Parys, (pronounced Paris) in rural South Africa in 1969, Barnes' only playmate was her brother, Graham. Raised in a happy and care-free environment, her mother realized from the beginning that Natasha was a highly energetic and creative child, and arranged a few art lessons for her with the town's only artist.

"When I think back to my childhood, I remember always wanting to make something. I'd either sculpt animals from the clay that we took from the river on the farm or make and sew all my own dolls clothes and the objects in her house," says Barnes. "All I wanted to do was create. This was not overlooked at school and I won prizes for art at the annual prize giving every year. At the time I was always so terribly disappointed the prizes were not for math or science."

From Boarding School to Cooking School

She started painting oils at age seven, and has been painting ever since. "I was sent to boarding school from the age of 13 to 18, Barnes says. "This was mainly due to the fact that I was a brilliant and competitive athlete, and many of my track and field records still stand today."

After leaving school, Barnes attended the prestigious Silwood Kitchens Cordon Bleu Cookery School in Cape Town, South Africa. "My parents gave me the option of studying art, and apparently I replied, "I don't need to study art, I am going to be an artist anyway," she explains. Her prediction proved profound.

"I obtained a three-year Grande Diploma and passed with distinction, specializing in wedding cake decoration and food styling. The school recommended that I take up a career in food writing and food styling."

It wasn't long before Barnes secured employment at one of South Africa's premier food magazines. "My years with Your Family magazine were happy and very creative. Among other things, I did a lot of TV demonstrations and wrote enough recipes to fill a book."

'Hooked'

Barnes' mother, the major influence in her life, suggested at the time that she join a local art group and start participating in group exhibitions. "I had not studied art at all apart from the few art lessons as a child, but I was immediately hooked. I loved meeting new artists and networking ... and I still do."

Soon, her paintings were fetching high prices and were in great demand in local art circles. She attended many exhibitions and shows in South Africa, but at the same time, continued her work for the magazine.

Barnes considered leaving the magazine to paint full-time for the South African market. "I had no ambition of going anywhere else, especially internationally. When a friend asked me to teach a cooking class for three weeks because a friend had let her down, I agreed."

Three weeks turned into five years, and she found herself teaching cooking to maximum security prisoners. "It was very rewarding, but during all these years I still continued to paint," she says. "In fact, when I did my first Artexpo I still had my cooking school. I knew deep down that cooking was only a means to an end," she explains.

How did she go from being a cooking school teacher to become an international artist?

"I was painting while I was teaching cooking," remembers Barnes. "One day, a friend asked me if I would like to join her for a trip to Dubai to help sell her pottery at a trade fair. I had no idea what this entailed, but I took 12 paintings and booked two meters (six feet) of her stand. A German publisher was in Dubai on holiday, saw my work and mentioned that I should go to the Spring Fair in Birmingham, England. I booked a stand for the following spring. The publisher was there and signed me, and the rest is history."

Barnes' painting has been a journey of great discovery. …

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