When celebrated Canadian artist Nixie Barton began creating her somewhat dark, antique doll installations for a show at the Old School House Arts Centre (TOSH) she was doing it more for herself, and wasn’t so sure people would get them. She was wrong.
“I didn’t think that people would like them,” she said. “I wanted to do it; I didn’t think they’d sell, but you know what … they have been, so I’m really thrilled.”
Barton got her formal art training at the University of Victoria and Malaspina College in Nanaimo. She met her husband Grant Leier when they were both artists living in Victoria. The couple opened a gallery at their home in Yellowpoint 18 years ago, surrounded by an extensive garden, where they have been selling their prominent Canadian contemporary art work.
Known for her bright and bold paintings, marked with clean lines and fresh compositions, Barton said this series has surprised people.
“I know it kinda looks dark and dirty but it’s not meant to be. It’s just to bring out some emotion in a person.”
Barton said the series started with a piece called Family Secrets, that spawned from situations in her own extended family. Things you’re not supposed to talk about and nobody is supposed to know about, but everybody does, she said. When she’ would share her family secrets with friends they would share their own family secrets as well, she said, and she began to realize that everybody has them.
Barton has been collecting the porcelain and celluloid dolls that are in the show for some time, and some are from the 1920s and ‘30s.
She said she stripped and painted them, and then dressed and stamped them, giving some headdresses and other colourful attire. She put some in shadowboxes accompanied by little messages, some in glass bell jars, and others on little see-saws.
Barton said people seem to be relating to the messages and the overall acceptance of the series has been really cool.
Her husband Grant Leier also has work in TOSH’s current exhibition, with a series of colourful dogs that has allowed him to revisit his past. Twenty years ago he had painted dogs extensively, he said, for about five years, and the hasn’t painted them again until now.
“It was fun; they’re a ton of fun to paint. They’re very fast and they’re all about colour; more about colour than they are about the dogs. It was just a hoot.”
Leier studied at the Alberta College of Art in Calgary before attending classes in New York. Much of his inspiration for painting comes from exotic cultures, he said, and often he’ll add Asian, Indian and Japanese imagery to his traditional still life pieces of flowers and fruit. Some of these ideas come from traveling with his wife and son over the last 20 years, he said.
Executive director of TOSH, Corrine James said the reason the show is selling so well is because people are aware the couple are two of Canada’s top contemporary artists, and their work is very interesting.
Along with Barton and Leier’s work, Megan Dulcie Dill’s enchanting mixed media paintings are also part of the current exhibition. These colourful pieces celebrate the life cycles of salmon and have each taken two years to complete. Dill studied at the Victoria College of Art, the University of Toronto and received her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Today, she divides her time between Salt Spring Island, Savary Island and Powell River.
The show at TOSH runs to Sept 15. For more on Barton, Leier and their new extended gallery in Nanaimo, visit www.bartonandleiergallery.com.
For more on Dill visit www.mdill.com.
For more information on TOSH call 250-752-6133 or visit www.theoldschoolhouse.org.