Eclectic collection by artist Brenda Bernhardt King

BROCKVILLE– “Art is a compelling thing. It’s really not an option to paint – every day I get up and think, I will go into the studio. And in the studio, a day can disappear.”

Artist Brenda Bernhardt King, who makes her home near Iroquois, currently has a one woman show at the Brockville Arts Centre Lobby Gallery, running until July 31.

The title of her exhibition, “eclectic collection,” is itself intriguing: to actually see the 30 pieces she has put together for this special show is to be introduced to a passionate and fascinating artist.

She picked “eclectic collection” because, as she explains it, “lecti is the Latin for a whimsical juxtaposition of the abstract and the narrative. I realized that I didn’t need a ‘subject’ area, I just needed the building blocks.”

Brenda has not created her pieces around some particular theme, some specific subject.

“Often people find it easy to just look at the ‘subject’ of a painting and form a snap judgement,” she said as we walked through the gallery. “They just say, do I personally like that subject? But I feel that you must learn to look at colour, line, shape and value. Do the colours in this painting work? What is happening with these colours? Is there a tactile feel, a movement in the painting?”

The elements of design, she feels, ultimately give people a way to view art, quite separate from whatever the ‘subject’ might appear to be.

This is reflected in the range of her art on display in the Brockville Gallery.

Many pieces, she says, are inspired by the places she has travelled in the last few years.

“I like to think that travel is my muse,” Brenda laughed. “I draw and draw when we are away, but sometimes those pieces I spend so much time on don’t in the end inspire me. Sometimes just one, tiny little section inspires me. Often it is the colours of the places I have been to that stay with me. The reds and yellows of the Amazon, the blues and purples of the Arctic.”

This is very evident in “Ice Castle” a piece painted following a visit to the South Pole. The exotic richness of South America finds expression in “Galapagos Garden” and “Rainforest Amazon River”. People, mysterious, beautiful, haunting, also interest this artist. Her “The Caravan Road, Mexico”, captures something of the emotions of being a refugee, faced with uncertainty.

“The memories in my paintings surround me,” she said. “Each painting is associated with a time and place that was awe-inspiring.”

Brenda King comes to her art somewhat ‘naturally.’ Her maternal grandmother painted delicate china. Her mother was a noted portrait artist in oils who painted individuals like university and bank presidents.

Brenda received her undergraduate degree in Fine Arts from the University of Guelph, and studied at the Ontario College of Art.

Her original plan, following a trip to Europe, was to be a painter – “but I ended up in the Faculty of Education,” she explained.

Life veered off in other directions, sometimes taking her far from the studio. Brenda was an art teacher at both North Dundas District High School and Seaway District High School. While she loved teaching, (“teaching itself is creative”), she didn’t do a lot of her own painting during those years. “I found the teenagers creative and talented and I came to think that their art eclipsed mine,” she laughed.

Later Brenda was named the principal of T. R. Leger School. She and husband David also began a consulting research and development company called eduWorks.

For some years, there never seemed to be the time to paint.

“However, when all these other occupations wound down, I bought canvas and paint and just started painting again.”

Robyn House, Front of House Manager and Visual Arts Co-ordinator at the Brockville Arts Centre is very pleased to be showing Brenda’s works.

“We exhibit many local artists. Every month, we feature a new artist following a draw that determines the slate of artists for the next year,” she explained. “As a result, we have a wide range of styles, reflective of the world, and a place for even first time artists to show their work to audiences. We often have visitors drop into the Arts Centre who are here specifically to see the works on display in our lobby. This Arts Centre is a beautiful jewel on King Street.”

While we were having this interview, people did drop into the gallery, and Brenda was able to show them her works. Their interest and her passion were very evident.

She now paints most days. “I over paint all the time,” she said. “If an original piece is not working for me, I paint over it, sometimes again and again. Then the textures and colours of the original peek out of the new work, and it becomes a whole new creation.”

Choosing the 30 works on display was a long process. “In some ways, it was a surprize to see the ones I ultimately hung. Because I am an eclectic artist, there is no convenient theme linking them.”

Brenda Bernhardt King’s art is, in her words, “linked by recurring concerns and compelling influences.” It is “a whimsical juxtaposition of the abstract and the narrative.”

An “eclectic collection”runs at the Brockville Arts Centre until July 31.

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