The prolific art of Barbara Hanrahan


The visual language of Barbara Hanrahan (1939–1991) is both bold and delicate. Working widely across the print medium, including woodcuts, linocuts, screenprints, lithographs, etchings and drypoint, Hanrahan explores sex, beauty, domesticity, nature, celestial bodies, and the afterlife, in her very personal yet distinctly universal images.

While the Adelaide-born artist’s own life was cut short in 1991, her career as a printmaker was extensive and prolific, spanning 30 of the artist’s 52 years. Beestung lips, an exhibition created by Flinders University Museum of Art (FUMA), is touring nationally, with 74 of Hanrahan’s prints from the entirety of her career shown at regional galleries across Australia.

“This exhibition is special because we draw from these great South Australian public and private collections to bring together a wonderful survey of her work that is in depth, and explored the breadth of her practice,” says curator Nic Brown.

Brown sees two sides to Hanrahan’s work: the “bold, visceral lino cuts that are quite stark and fearlessly direct” and “this other side to her work that was highly and unashamedly decorative”.

This is one of many recurring collisions in her practice, whether stylistic or thematic. She balances strength and vulnerability, levity and severity, the physical and the ethereal. “The afterlife, or spirituality, is not removed from the earthly everyday-ness of being a human, or being in the home,” says Brown. “You will see angels and celestial bodies such as the sun and the moon and the stars, connected, or in dialogue with, the humblest garden bee.”

Bee-stung lips: Barbara Hanrahan
Works on paper 1960-1991
Port Pirie Regional Art Gallery
Until 21 May

Naracoorte Regional Art Gallery
2 June—16 July

This article was originally published in the May/June 2023 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Sally Gearon