Elizabeth Barsham

Meeting Elizabeth Barsham: Tasmanian Gothic Artist

8 November, 2014

Chris Kelly, Cartoonist writes of his first meeting with Elizabeth Barsham and his reaction to her art:

One day in 1988 at the Hobart Mercury I received a phone call from the unknown Ms Barsham (an apparent fan of my Sunday cartoons) to invite me to her art exhibition launch in Fitzroy, Melbourne.

Upon arrival in Fitzroy, I was immediately impressed with the luscious colours, gorgeous aromas of fresh oil paints and quite simply. stunning visual imagery and imagination  of terrifyingly gothic proportions. Dazzled by the quality of the artwork I immediately volunteered to help a gorgeous blonde (gothic) German woman working behind the bar.

On the firm basis of one drink each for each drink served to the public, Helga and I proceeded to get entirely plastered while being surrounded by Liz’s voluptuous and  – disturbingly sensuous large-scale oiled artworks.

Thereafter I would often call in at Ms Barsham’s house in Lower North Seddon on those occasions I visited Melbourne. Not just as a place to sleep and drink incredibly cheap wine I might add, but also for the delicious and awe inspiring pleasure of being surrounded by unbelievably sumptuous artwork in a house absolutely stuffed with oil paintings and to be amazed as even more oiled examples of Ms Barsham’s somewhat weird imagination would be extracted from unexpected nooks and/or suspicious crannies.

It was then I formed the suspicion that only by working on about 300 canvases at the one time was she able to provide some release for her imagination.

I don’t think I had ever realized that a house that size could hold that much art, that much psychotically glorious imagination. (Versailles? Yes. A house in Upper North Seddon? No.) It was like being granted entrance to Aladdin’s cave. Gorgeous luscious treasures cascading and tumbling at me from every direction.

Years later, Liz moved back to the family farm in Hobart to re—kickstart the Tasmanian economy (then in the doldrums). It is to her house in Lindisfarne I now go, where she has taken over the barn from the chickens in order to give herself room to paint and room to store her canvases.

The delight of calling in to see the latest oiled works is marred only by having to fight one’s way past an increasingly large number of aggressive Rhode Island Orpington Reds. On the plus side, the new artwork is always well worth the viewing over a cup or two of Liz’s coffee. And you get a dozen eggs. On the down side, you have to fight your way out again.

I I’ve been to many of her exhibitions over the years and there is always the expectation  of new and unexpected delights. Invariably since the last exhibition, her mind will have  shot off in another direction at the standard rate of 300 canvases per. Artwork that ranges from a small but exquisite biro drawing of a grey guinea fowl (that I still proudly have) to magnificent five panel full colour oil paintings that need an extremely large house.

The thing for Tasmania is that Elizabeth has pretty much spent her life playing with her art, perfecting her art, giving her imagination free and voluptuous reign and brought a great deal of world experience to what she does. She is also an amateur historian of some note and a researcher of some quality. This combination of talents has gifted her the ability to look deep into the Tasmanian soul and extract a vision of Tasmania, Tasmanian Gothic, that is both pertinent and unusual. ‘

It’s a View hidden away and expressed by only a few. For a written version, you might try Marcus Clarke’s For the Term of His Natural Life. For the graphic view look to Elizabeth Barsham. When you look at Liz’s Tasmanian Gothic works be prepared to see a vision of Tasmania that you might not have expected to see and be a little better informed about Tasmania accordingly.

If you are about to purchase a copy of Ms Barsham’s excellent book, (and you should be), or indeed if you have already done so, (and good on you for doing that) just be aware that what you will be holding in your hot little paws is but a smidgeon of what this remarkable woman and artist has produced over the years. Think of it as a starting point to your collection.


Chris Kelly, Graphic Designer, Caricaturist, Cartoonist 2014.

Artist: Elizabeth Barsham in her studio from Rachael Page on Vimeo.


You can view Elizabeth’s collection here and see Chris’s bio here

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