The Art of Covid: How Five Peninsula Galleries Evolved Through the Pandemic

by Jamila Douhaibi – 

The pandemic has affected so many facets of life around the world, and the art scene on the Saanich Peninsula has not been immune. Artists and galleries had to cancel shows, close their doors, and work harder to promote their work. Though some have found the change to be positive, with artists opening new spaces and reimagining how to share their work, adapting has been key.

Staying Creative Gallery, Central House Art, Peninsula Gallery, Red Art Gallery, and Magnolia Art Studio all shared their experiences of the last few years. Each artist represents their work in different ways, and each has had to uniquely adapt. They have also seen how Covid has reinforced the power of social media in reaching enthusiasts and increasing profits. Regardless of how 2020 has reshaped their work, everyone shared their excitement for the future of art on the Peninsula.

Staying Creative Gallery
Kristofer Parley and his husband Nathan Nazo Davis opened their gallery in Brentwood Bay in September of 2021. Kristofer says that his and Nathan’s styles are completely different. Where Kristofer is known for his large pen and ink pieces and huge, vibrant, detailed watercolour paintings, Nathan’s background is in graffiti. The latter’s paintings and murals are vivid 80s to 90s inspirations, along with a new interest in photo-realistic pencil crayon and acrylic pieces.

Because the two opened their gallery during Covid, they weren’t able to have a reception and waited to have their official opening in April of 2022. They also couldn’t promote their gallery as much as they wanted, but took the extra time to refine it. The artists are both looking forward to sharing their work with their new neighbourhood, with classes and drop-in sketch nights, as well as wanting to provide a community space for other local artists.

Kristofer says that an increase in galleries can only be a positive thing because it provides more exposure for creative talent to be shared. He believes that social media has increased the way artists can show their work around the world, but there’s nothing like a physical space to really view art. Their gallery is set up as a safe space, making art accessible for all.

Open Wednesday to Sunday 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. #103 – 7162 West Saanich Road, Brentwood Bay. www.StayingCreativeGallery.com

Central House Art
Leslie Hunter runs the Central House Art gallery on a retrofitted boathouse in North Saanich. Her work is mainly Abstract Expressionism, using several mediums including graphite, mixed media, oils, acrylic and clay. She believes art is about communication and that her work will “provide a window to the sublime.” She is currently working on an abstraction series, as well as portrait commissions. She says that her boathouse gallery overlooks the ocean, and this peaceful quiet place is ideal for creating, and viewing, art.

During Covid, Leslie’s focus turned to connecting with a variety of western art groups, maintaining her relationships with businesses, and reviewing work. She also connected with Nicola Furlong at Radio Sidney for a few interviews to discuss and promote art. Leslie’s looking forward to being able to interact with visitors and offer classes again, because she’s concerned with the “click to purchase trend,” and believes art is always better in person. However, she does understand that the internet plays a huge role in marketing and procuring art, so will also work on streamlining her website. As an artist and art consultant, Leslie believes she has both a duty and honour to share, discuss, promote and demystify art.

To view recent works, as well as finding out more about workshops and upcoming shows, visit Leslie’s website: www.centralhouseconsulting.com.

Peninsula Gallery
A mainstay in Sidney, Peninsula Gallery opened in 1986. Vivian Chen’s goal has always been to represent and celebrate the best living West Coast artists, saying that she’s never understood why artists don’t usually receive recognition until after they die. Gallery artists include Carol Evans and Robert Bateman, as Vivian says she wants to promote the best of the best.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Peninsula Gallery closed for several months. Vivian re-opened in June of 2020 with her new business partner, Mitchell Jones. Strictly following the province’s guidelines, Vivian cancelled all art opening receptions. The gallery continued to have their monthly spotlight show, with featured artists doing demos on Saturdays, but didn’t advertise the demos to keep numbers down.

Vivian has seen that the number of fine art galleries has diminished alongside the upward trend in social media for art representation. She believes that this trend is not a positive one because there are fewer galleries for artists to have a physical presence in. It’s important to introduce original artwork and artists to the public, believes Vivian, because it’s not only owning art, but also visiting galleries, that brings people joy.

Upcoming shows:

Spotlight exhibitions of each of the following local, renowned artists will be in a dedicated section of the gallery.

  • August: Deborah Tilby, recognized as a prominent Canadian oil and watercolour painter.
  • September: Ray Ward, realism in oils, known for his West Coast paintings.
  • October: Clement Kwan, paints mainly in oils, combining impressionism with realism.

Regular hours: Tuesday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Also open by appointment. #100 – 2506 Beavon Avenue, Sidney. www.pengal.com

Red Art Gallery
Mainly a self-taught artist, Marion Evamy became well known for her pop art style dog portraits, which she started doing in the 90s. Marion says that for her 50th birthday she wanted to do something interesting, so she and her husband Bobb Hamilton opened Red Art Gallery in Oak Bay in 2011. After taking the summer of 2016 off, they moved to Sidney in 2017.

Covid had a big impact on Red Art Gallery, but in a positive way. Marion says that they started running the gallery from their home, with smaller scale events and viewings by appointment. This change made their work more lucrative, and their lives easier, because they were no longer bound to retail hours. They also decided to buy a trailer so they could bring art to customers’ homes. Marion believes that this model has ensured that people receive a red-carpet treatment, since individuals get one-to-one connection directly with the artist.

The last few years have cemented the importance of social media for art exposure. Marion says that the pandemic has made these platforms mandatory – a necessity for each artist to find their niche for clients and supporters.

Marion and Bobb are both strong advocates for using their art not only to make money, but also to support local and international charities. They donate 25% of their profits each year, and hold large-scale fundraisers. Last year they raised over $22,000 for the Victoria Women’s Transition House and they hope to have another big fundraiser in 2022, along with other special events at the gallery.

Red Art Gallery can be visited by appointment at their space in Sidney. Join their newsletter or visit www.redartgallery.ca for more information.

Magnolia Art Studio
In 2019 Wendy Duffield and her husband created the Magnolia Art Studio. The pair opened the studio after they returned to the Peninsula from Australia in 2018. Wendy was just settling into a well-growing business, with art classes for children and adults, as well as regular exhibitions. But, she says, after March 2020 “all bets (and bookings) were off.” Wendy was meant to have a solo exhibition of her collages at Coast Collective Gallery in August of 2020, but not only did the pandemic cause the show to be cancelled: the gallery also ended up closing permanently.

Rolling with the pandemic punches, Wendy shifted her show to her studio, creating a temporary outdoor gallery to comply with restrictions. Even with the upheaval, Wendy says that she was pleased with how the event turned out. She also created a “2020 Ruminations” series of collages as a response to the pandemic, which were exhibited at the Cowichan Art Gallery. She says that Covid forced her, like many artists, to find other ways to create and deliver art. She had Zoom meetings with students, and hosted workshops at the BC Aviation Museum, which offered more space for distancing. She also started teaching art at the Panorama Recreation Centre. Wendy says she was lucky to have her exhibition at the Sidney ArtSea Gallery occur, given the windows of time that the gallery was open.

Though the pandemic was a setback, Wendy has been grateful for the ways that she can still show and share her craft. For 2022 she is planning another exhibition at the ArtSea Gallery beginning September 16 called THREADS. This show includes herself and her mother, Susan Duffield, who Wendy says is younger than her years and an inspiration to those around her. She also has a two-person exhibition starting mid-July at the Truth Gym Gallery in Victoria entitled Murmur.

To see Wendy’s work and find out more about classes visit www.wduffieldart.com.

Photos courtesy respective artists.

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