Pandemic pondering by Anne Barkley, local artist elected to Ontario Society of Artists

Artistic expressions in South Dundas series.

The Leader’s Wendy Gibb has undertaken a series of articles focusing on the visual artists who live and create here in our own community, discussing with them how their work and experiences may have been “influenced” by the “new reality” of a COVID world. Many of the artists also discuss how they perceive the future of the arts post pandemic. Previously featured were artists Jan Mills, Elsie Gallinger, Gene Ward and Karen Fisher. Those articles can now be found online at morrisburgleader.ca. This week Gibb spoke with Anne Barkley.

WILLIAMSBURG – “I actually had some pieces all ready to go to the Ottawa Art Gallery, three of them, for a show,” said Anne Barkley, well-known Williamsburg artist. “They were all packed, sitting in my living room. Then, of course, COVID struck. Everything shut down. Well, those three pieces are still sitting in my house… Maybe one day.”

As is the case for all of the artists in this Leader series, the shutdowns and closures and limitations of the COVID crisis have also become a part, however unwelcome, of Anne’s life.

Also like many of her fellow artists, she has begun “working more online. I have to admit, though, that I don’t really love spending time on line – I’d rather be painting. However, I have had to adapt. I do enter juried shows online all the time because they are connected to groups that I am in. And people are actually buying on line,” she said. “Still the reality, of course, is that painting is a solitary exercise. Other artists understand this, and we support each other…even online.”

Anne has been working fairly steadily since the onset of the COVID crisis.

“I’ve used the Digital Market Place sponsored by the Counties. It really helped people like me to get more capable with social media. It also helped me refine my skills, and to set up a website as a store. Zoom has also been very useful.” She also said that she “feels rather lucky,” nonetheless, that Le Germain Hotel in Ottawa leased four painting of hers and that she gets a regular check from them. “This is nice.”

Over the COVID months, she continued to spend time in her home studio, “but I don’t feel I paint as much as before. Frankly, my house is currently very full of works. I do spend a lot of time, however, thinking about art. I actually have a new series in mind, more flowers than ever – but not photographic flowers. This series will actually be a different approach for me.”

Despite the pandemic situation, there has, however, been one remarkable and very special event in Anne’s artistic career.

She has been elected to the Ontario Society of Artists, one of the oldest and most prestigious groups in the province. It is a great honour for this local artist.

“OSA is 150 years old this year. The Group of Seven were original members of the Arts and Letters Club which was formed by the OSA. Talk about exalted company,” Anne said. “Hopefully, the Society is currently working on special shows and events to mark this special anniversary. Maybe even in person shows!”

Anne continues to look forward to the opportunity, somewhere in the future, to “hang out with other artists, to go on retreats, to take classes together. And I have met some great people online, experiences which have been inspiring and educational. But I think we all miss the direct camaraderie.”

She explained that many of her fellow artists have been staging “paint outs” online, each artist painting, talking, and discussing with others, Zoom experiences she has enjoyed.

“And I really can’t put everything going on in my life at COVID’s door,” Anne said. “The reality is that some people handle isolation better than others. I am not a TV watcher, although I did get tuned into a couple of series. However, I love to read. My house continues to be full of books and art.”

Barkley, sitting in her garden for this interview, hopes for a brighter future for all the arts when the clouds of COVID finally roll back.

“There may be a real and serious demand for the visual arts. People may be eagerly looking forward to going to galleries, just for the joy of looking at a special piece. I think we’ll all be glad to go to the theatre again, to attend a concert. People just want to get out, to mingle, to visit.

Like many other artists, COVID may also have made me think of different ways to approach my work than before.”

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