Ideas born in a barn

Late on a rainy spring afternoon, four artists are lounging behind their easels in an old barn at the back of a south Langley property.

While the sky continues its seemingly relentless assault — soaking the surrounding woods and lush green pastures — inside Bernie Major’s barn, it’s warm and dry, as Major, Dianne Lynne, Bette Laughy and Carole Rayer wrap up an afternoon’s painting with a bit of chit chat.

They are the last of the eight member group, known collectively as the Artists of Bernie’s Barn, to finish up for the day, and the conversation soon turns to the group’s latest projects and exhibits, as well as some of the more exotic — and sunny — locations they’ve visited in pursuit of their craft.

The sun-drenched land and cityscapes of Mexico and Italy, Turkey, Egypt and France have all provided the artists with a bit of a change from the grey-green light typical of B.C.’s temperate rain forests.

In fact, for some of the members, it was during these trips abroad that they first met other members of the group, which formed a decade ago.

Rayer, currently working on a large Mediterranean-inspired street scene in shades of gold, brown and turquoise, met fellow Bernie’s Barn artist Lynne and her husband, Rick McDiarmid, at a course McDiarmid was teaching in France.

Laughy, meanwhile, came to the group through its other founding member, Stu Richardson, with whom she once taught at Kwantlen.

Various connections eventually brought together nine artists to meet each Thursday afternoon, for a few hours spent painting, critiquing one another’s pieces, or just enjoying each other’s company as they work inside the old barn with its unpainted wood walls.

Today, the space practically screams artists’ studio, but 10 years ago, the message was more ‘disaster zone,’ Major laughs.

“There were no windows, and it was full of all the junk from me living here and the people before me living here,” he said.

So he got busy cleaning.

Once Major had the space cleared, he had it wired, laid carpet and fitted it with a small kitchen area for the artists’ weekly potluck lunches.

Then he cut a few holes in the barn walls to let in some natural light and had a black cast iron stove installed in the centre of the room so the group can work year round in the uninsulated building.

“The rest is just a hodge podge,” Major said. “But it’s the perfect studio, because you’ve got all the space in the world, and you can make as big a mess as you like and nobody cares.”

Richardson passed away  a couple of years ago, leaving Major as the only man in the group. But he continues to appreciate the camaraderie the seven women provide with each weekly visit.

“Artists tend to be solitary people, so it’s nice when you can be with a bunch of people,” he said.

“We nurse each other along, because you don’t always see your own mistakes.”

There are no rules and no fees; the artists come and go as they like.

Having no commitment creates a sort of commitment in its own right, they say.

“I like it because I know I’m going to paint at least one day a week,” said Laughy.

Being part of the group has also given them a rare opportunity to pay tribute to their late friend.

After Richardson died, his wife found a number of his unfinished pieces and gave them to the barn group.

They’ve each taken a painting or two to complete, working, whenever possible, from the same photos Richardson used.

Trying to remain true to the vision of the artist who had a strong background in graphic design, has meant working outside their usual styles, and that’s a challenge they’ve embraced.

“It’s been quite an experience,” said Major, “because we all paint differently, and none of us paint like Stu.”

Lynne, for instance, started working on a partially completed landscape painting — carrying on in the direction the artist was going in his depiction of the trees, rocks and water — or so she thought.

“I painted the whole thing in the colours he was kind of using —  these bright colours,” Lynne said.

“Then Bernie found the pictures (Richardson was working from) and so, I’m just repainting it again,” she added with a sort of combination laugh and sigh.

Over the years, when they’ve completed enough work to display, the group puts on an exhibit as they did last month at the Newton Cultural Centre.

Knowing they have a show coming up gives the artists focus, said Major.

Because of the limited gallery space available in Langley, the group has exhibited mostly in Surrey and Delta, usually raising money for charity in the process.

What they’d really like to see is a dedicated space, similar to the Firehall in Delta or a community cultural centre, where artists who don’t have regular access to gallery space can display their work for more than a day or two at a time.

For now, they’re taking opportunities as they present themselves.

Beginning Saturday, Major’s work will be featured in a two-week exhibit at Frames West Gallery in Murrayville.

Eighteen months ago, Major and his wife traveled to Egypt, where they cruised along the Nile and visited Cairo, Alexandria and the Valley of Kings.

“Of course, I came back with hundreds of images,” he said.

When it came to deciding which pictures to commit to canvas, Major chose the ones which, for him, best captured the moment — whether it was a bedouin riding a camel through the desert or fishermen on the Nile, whacking the surface of the water to frighten fish into their nets, as they’ve done for centuries.

One scene that particularly intrigued Major was of a group of women in a mosque.

“What caught me was how incredible their veils were,” he said. “They were made of Egyptian silk in all these pastel colours. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s just not something you would normally see anywhere else.

“Everybody’s seen the Sphinx and the pyramids,” he said. “Everything I paint, I try to make sure there’s a story that goes with it.”



A solo exhibit by Bernard Major

Date: Saturday, June 11 and continuing for two weeks

Time: 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Venue: Frames West Gallery, #105-22259 48 Ave.

Info: 604-530-9015 or frameswestgallery.com

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