Talking with Barney
Portrait of Professor Barney Glover
Vice-Chancellor of Western Sydney University
Acrylic on linen
100 x 80 cm

‘Talking with Barney’ explores thoughts, time, space and form to portray Professor Barney Glover, the Vice-Chancellor of Western Sydney University (UWS), as a distinguished academic leader, an accomplished mathematician and one of the most influential educators in Australia.

Commissioned by UWS, Chinese-Australian multimedia artist Tianli Zu attempts to explore her subject’s mysterious nature, by expressing emotions that go beyond his cheerful and positive public figure. ‘Mysterious within the mysterious is the gateway to all understanding in Taoist terms’, Zu explained.

Fascinated by Glover’s mathematical world, Zu employs her signature language of the interplay of light and shadow (yin-yang in Chinese philosophical terms). ‘During this cross-disciplinary experimental investigation, there was resonance between a hidden spiritual dimension and the unconsciousness and my subject’s analytical realm’, Zu explained. ‘The composition of Glover is triangular, which is a metaphor of the spiritual domain: the organic yet abstract; the concrete yet immaterial. Glover’s special area is asymmetry and discontinuity which intrigued me to shift his figure to one side of the canvas, creating a playful effect. This coincides with a question to which I am constantly searching for answers: how do we live in this imbalanced contemporary world?’

The portrait was painted in natural light with half of Glover in the light and the other half in shadow, as a representation of Glover as standing for the duality of Western culture. However, Zu was not limited by nature: ‘I referenced a computer algebra system generated image for the background to create a sense of deep space with illuminating lights piercing the darkness. It also symbolises a landscape and the infinite universe. The ever-interchangeable movements of light and shadow and the continuity produced from having no beginning, no end and circular shapes represent unity in Eastern culture. As a consequence, the background and the subject accompany each other rhythmically and harmoniously, while simultaneously revealing a kind of shapelessness and mysteriousness.’
‘I use my hands to express things a lot’, Glover admitted. ‘His hands suggest that he is communicating with his viewers. It is a dialogue: his relaxed left hand opens towards himself – an interior dialogue – while his right hand reaches out to the audience – a silent exterior conversation’, Zu commented. ‘Unlike traditional portraiture styles, I hope to create movement in stillness.’

Glover’s illustration of a non-smooth analytical form is illustrated above his left hand. ‘I incorporated his drawing into the painting because, in my view, its meaning extends beyond pure mathematical terms. It represents a universal phenomenon of co-existence: continuity and discontinuity; smoothness and sharpness, minimal and maximal; normal and strange; existence and absence’, Zu explained.

Glover wears a purple tie. He said: ‘This reflects the blending of the right wing (blue) and left wing (red) political interactions that are part of my daily life.’ Zu added, ‘Purple symbolises magic and mystery. It reconciles two oppositions – the calmness of blue and activeness of red – to create a new dynamic energy’.