Tessa Barringer | BIO < back to artists

Tessa Barringer has spent her working life as a teacher of English but has always nurtured a desire to draw and paint. After years of intermittent night classes, correspondence courses and summer schools, she finally took the plunge in 2010 and enrolled at the Dunedin School of Art to complete a Graduate Diploma in Fine Arts (painting).

In 2015, she took early retirement from teaching so that she could focus on developing her art practice. She has a long-held fascination with portraiture but also, and especially recently, has been developing work that arises from her observations of and her deep sense of connection to the natural world.

'SANCTUARY' - Tessa's latest solo exhibition brings together twelve months of hard work with 21 outstanding original pastel paintings featuring "her" beloved birds .. both in their natural settings and others from literally outside her studio doors - on the bird table that she 're-sets' each morning awaiting the characters to emerge on their own tiny stage ... 



THE ANGELS AT MY TABLE - MAY 2020 at The Artist's Room Fine Art Gallery:

This body of work began to evolve early in 2018 when I started to develop a series of drawings based on photographs taken of birds feeding at the bird table built for me by a friend - right at my studio door.  I had recently taken early retirment from teaching to concentrate on my art but, after a life-long fascination with life-drawing & portraiture, had found myself searching for a direction more suited to my way of life & that's when the birds became my subject of choice.  So much a part of our everyday lives & yet so elusive & other in their capacity to effortlessly spread their wings & fly, I had always loved watching birds, but now I found myself drawn to the same things that fascinated me in life-drawing & portraiture & set about trying to capture the way character was expressed through movement & the dynamic complexity of interaction.  Alongside textbook research into bird physiology (& hands-on study whenever the opportunity presented itself), I also worked hard developing my photography skills & spent many a long hour poring over thousands & thousands of images studying sequances of movement as the birds came & went from the bird table.  To createmore scope for interactionsI introduced larger & more elaborate bowls to vary the compositional opportunities & invite more birds to participate.  Initially these arrangements were purely aesthetic. but as the body of work developed the sympolism of what I was seeing began to assert itself.

I was moved not only be the beauty of the visiting birds, but also by the paradox of their fragility & extraordinary resilience.  As we travelled through the seasons together & I photographed them in the wild wind & rain & snow & hard frosts & we weathered the other storms created by the summer swarms of henybees, plagues of wasps & outbreaks of disease, I realised that there at my bird table I was watching in microcosm the plight of the natural world, thrown out of balance & struggling to adapt the impact of humanity on the home we share.  The glass bowls spoke of a fragile ecosystem theat could be irrevocably broken, the sugar water & fruit a dwindling resouce that all must share & the often fierce battles that took place over feeding hierachies evoked our shared struggle for survival.

The decision to focus only on the native birds that cam einto my garden was in part to highlight what is uniquely ours (or almost, as variants of our little waxeyes are found all over the Pacific) but also to remind viewers that, in this age where the appetite for novelty has us endlessley yearning to be elsewhere, there is much that is wonderful right here, quite literally in our own backyards, if only we took the time & trouble to look closely.  The title ofthe show is a brief ironic nod to my other life as an English teacher & academic (I wrote my PhD thesis on Janet Frame), but most particularly it is a reference to the Rilke poem from Vergers:


Stay still, if suddenly

the Angel chooses your table:

softly smooth the wrinkles

in the cloth beneath your bread.

Offer up your own few bites,

so her can have his taste,

and he can lift to his pure lips

a simple glass of all your days.


These works are hopefully an invitation to welcome the angels that share the table of our everyday lives with both respect & awe, to look more closely, to appreciate & to cherish the extraordinary richness that is around us but increasingly under threat from our own actions.  If each of us accepted the responsibilty to take more care of the small corner of the world we call home, by planting a tree that would feed the birds, by not wasting or littering or abusing, but instead by nuturing - then the world we all must inhabit would hopefully become in tiny incremental steps a bettre place for us all.