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New perspective, distinctive style

Perhaps Gibsons' artist Josefa Fritz Barham has turned a corner. She literally has a new perspective in her recent paintings.

Perhaps Gibsons' artist Josefa Fritz Barham has turned a corner.

She literally has a new perspective in her recent paintings. In some, she's looking down from the rooftops; in others, she's looking up from the ground through a lacy network of tall trees. The landscapes depict light pouring through segmented, stained glass windows of sky and sea and spilling on to nature. Many of the 14 paintings that will be on display at the Westwind Gallery starting Saturday, Feb. 12, will be local landscapes: Skookumchuck Narrows, Gibsons Harbour - scenes we've seen painted many times before. It is the technique that is so interesting. The water, the waves, the sky, are composed of intricate, interconnecting shapes that the viewer's cognitive eye tends to form into recognizable objects. Each painting is put together with five layers of paint, each layer contributing a bit more to the whole, then smooth varnished; there are no textures or brush strokes visible. The shapes and layering create a distinctive style all Barham's own. Barham, born in Bavaria, originally studied art in Germany and trained in Canada with Kathryn Jacobi where she learned the layering technique. In 2002, when she was last preparing her work for a show at the Gift of the Eagle Gallery, she was producing still life and surreal art: vivid scenes from her imagination and paintings after the style of Rene Magritte, the Belgian artist who juxtaposed objects in the same picture to give new meaning to the ordinary. She took that collection to show in Germany where it met with success, but there was something missing. She needed her own distinctive look, one that viewers would recognize instantly. Gallery owner Morley Baker encouraged her. He remembers that her style of painting included delightful "little Dutch masters," but it was when she showed him a commissioned work in the wonderful new style that he became excited. Those who have formal training will learn to paint according to those principles, he explains, but sooner or later, they must develop a style of their own.

"Jo embraced that thought. She went out and did it," Baker said. Painting is Barham's passion. "I love painting. It's like breathing," she says. Many in Gibsons are accustomed to seeing Barham waiting on tables at the Blackfish Pub, but these days she spends increased hours with her art. This new style gives her freedom. It's not narrowed by the constraints of art school or principles of realism. Also, the scenes epitomize Canada, her adopted country, she says, pointing at Lifestyle, a painting of a steep, rugged shoreline cut by a sunny ridge that leads up to a majestic mountain.

The intricate shapes lend themselves to the abstract format. In order to test this, the artist has taken one section of her larger pictures, framed it in her mind's eye, and then painted it big. The kaleidoscope of shapes emerges into The Promise, a foray into abstract art. The opening reception for the Barham show, Reflections, will be on Saturday, Feb. 12, from 4 to 7 p.m. at Westwind Gallery in Gibsons, upstairs at 292 Gower Point Road. The show runs through February.

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