Pat Barker isn’t one to paint herself into a corner — never mind a pigeon hole.
An avid dragon boater who has written a book on the subject, she worked as a firefighter for 10 years before retiring and even has a couple of documentary films to her credit.
But it’s acrylic paints and broken glass that have really captured the Fort Langley woman’s imagination in recent months.
And now she’s getting ready to share her new passion for paint with the community for the first time.
Barker and fellow Fort Gallery artist Kathleen McGiveron — who works in ceramics — will share gallery space for three weeks in the New Year as they mount a show titled Inspired and Irregular, from Jan. 2 to 20 at the Fort Langley artist-run gallery.
What viewers will be seeing from Barker represents a fairly new development in her artistic pursuits.
It is only recently that she began painting in acrylics, having spent most of her time working in pencil since graduating from Emily Carr in 1993.
And, up until now, Barker’s drawings have been faithful recreations of her subjects, from images of turnout gear hanging alongside fire engines — commissioned as gifts for retiring firefighters — to close-ups of bamboo and the distinctive criss-cross pattern of a palm tree trunk to a clutter of old wine corks.
At the other end of the artistic spectrum are her more recent pieces — the ones she plans to hang. There will be between 10 and 20 of them in the exhibit, she said, examples of her most recent style, including abstracts which combine paint, both brushed and splattered onto the canvas, with shards of glass intermixed.
Those she gets by breaking mirrors — lots and lots of mirrors.
“I’m going to have more than seven years of bad luck,” Barker laughed.
But it’s definitely not as simple as letting them slip from her hands and hit the floor.
“I take them out by the old Albion Ferry (dock), because breaking glass draws a lot of attention,” she said. “It’s really loud.”
Double bagging them to prevent dangerous shards of glass from flying, she takes a hammer to the mirrors, breaking them into jagged pieces which she then fixes to her canvases.
In some cases, the patterns are abstract, in others, the pieces are carefully arranged to form the snowy peaks of mountains she has painted.
From her fourth floor condominium in Fort Langley’s Bedford Landing, Barker has a spectacular view of the Fraser River and, beyond, Golden Ears — an image that provides her with inspiration for many of her paintings.
Not that there have been too many, just yet.
Pretty much every canvas Barker has so far painted is either hanging on or leaning against a wall in her home. Once the exhibit goes up, those walls will look a little bare, she knows.
But that’s OK with the artist.
“It’s a win-win,” said Barker.
“If I sell work, great; if I don’t, I get to keep it.”
Assuming most or all of her paintings find new homes, Barker is more than happy to begin decorating anew.
“I want to keep doing this,” she said.
And, as luck would have it, she’ll soon have even more wall space to cover. This spring, Barker and her husband will move into a new, much larger, live-work studio just down the street.
Living in commercially zoned space will give her the opportunity to start her own small studio/gallery.
On the ceiling of her studio, Barker plans to re-create arguably the most famous image from the Sistine Chapel — but with a bit of a twist. In her version, God will be handing Adam a pencil.
She has already named the space The Pencil Studio in celebration of her roots as an artist.
“I started off (working with) regular pencil, then pencil crayons and water colour pencil,” she explained.
She enjoyed the control she got working with the implements, but even they presented challenges that needed creative solutions.
Before she discovered fixative sprays, Barker taught herself to work from the top down, to avoid smudging the parts she’d already completed.
In addition to displaying and selling her own artwork, Barker plans to stock other artists’ pieces at her studio as well — particularly those that fit in with her theme.
One, a Surrey artist, creates rests for calligraphy pens. The pieces are carved into dragon’s tails, and Barker appreciates the connection to her other passion — dragon boats.
“I’m leaning toward anything having to to with writing or the pencil,” she said of her plans for stocking her new shop.
As for when she will be prepared to welcome her first customers, Barker has not set a firm date just yet.
“It will open when it’s ready.”
McGiveron, another Langley artist, who will display her work alongside Parker’s in the Inspired and Irregular exhibit, creates ceramic sculptures inspired by the figurine. Her sculptures may appear traditional, but upon second glance, it becomes clear that these scaled-up figurines have had their decals or possessions stripped and replaced with unconventional, popular logo patterning, through method of decal, or with hand-built pop icons.
The artist is interested in the way pop icons and imagery can replace traditional images used as surface decoration on ceramic ware.
Historically, culture has been preserved on the surface of ceramics, said McGiveron, who aims to document as well as create a dialogue about contemporary culture on the surfaces of my sculptures.
“In a way, my works are almost an anti-monument: the viewer is able to relate to the piece and recognize that what is occurring in my sculptures is connected to what is happening today,” she said.
“They are about what people are interested in.”
Inspired and Irregular will officially open on Jan. 4, with an artists’ reception from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Fort Gallery, 9048 Glover Rd. Go to fortgallery.ca or call 604-888-7411 for more information.