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‘Spread kindness, not germs’. ‘We’ll meet again’. ‘We’ll overcome it’. ‘Better days ahead’ – all poignant and now very-recognizable terms which stand out in a new COVID-19 art exhibit at Leir House Cultural Centre.
The last time Penticton & District Community Arts Council resident artist Deb Tougas had a live exhibition – it was halted due to coronavirus.
That was back in February, when her Love letters exhibit was forced to go online.
The disappointment over not being able to showcase her hard work resulted in, well, more hard work!
Tougas came to accept the COVID-19 pandemic, and its many effects on society, and somewhat embraced it, given her new display, which is all part of the Fresh A.i.R. - Artists in Residence Hybrid Exhibition.
The Penticton Arts Council has unveiled its first hybrid in-person and online exhibition featuring artists in residence Karla Avendano, Bethany Handfield, Barb Peeren, Cathie Peeren, Diana Skelhorne, George Traicheff, and Tougas.
“Right in the beginning, I couldn’t paint – what artists call, creative block,” admitted Tougas. “I think, like everybody, I was trying to sort out what’s going on in the world, how it affects you and your family, all the rules, and what are you going to do.
“The last thing I could do was pick up a paint brush and start painting. It was just not going to happen.”
Tougas stepped away from creating for about three months, focusing on gathering information. She watched Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's daily briefings, along with those from Dr. Bonnie Henry, followed what was happening around the world, and complied with all the safety protocols in place, like wearing a mask.
Then, one day, she watched a YouTube video from a doctor in Italy.
“That one absolutely hit me really hard – just her whole message, because it was early on. They were just bombarded with it, and showing images of people in hospitals, and dying alone,” said Tougas. “That was the message – that this wasn’t something to take lightly. No wonder I couldn’t paint.”
Then a friend encouraged her to step away from the day-to-day new coverage. She stayed informed – but not overwhelmed.
And that may have been the catalyst to get Deb Tougas in front of the canvas again.
“I just didn’t feel like I needed to paint flowers, which is what I normally do – flowers and feathers, and the Love Letters series,” offered Tougas. “None of that was coming to me, so I thought, as an artist, this is my opportunity to put my thoughts and feelings onto canvas.”
Six paintings later, and Tougas has her COVID-19-inspired exhibit on display.
The first painting was entitled COVID-19, which sold immediately. Another five paintings have been completed – each allowing Tougas to take another step in the process of getting through the ongoing pandemic.
“As we all went through the different stages, so did my paintings. The first one, COVID-19, was about social distancing because it was the first thing that came out – six feet apart and arrows everywhere. The second painting, The New Normal, is about Bonnie Henry when she came out with your personal bubble, and who’s in your bubble. That painting’s on display at the hospital,” explained Tougas. “The next one, Never Say Never, is about wearing masks. When Will It End was the next painting. All of a sudden it’s’ like, this is not just lasting four months. When do we get to the end of it? Back To School – that speaks for itself – kids having to wear masks, and all the rules they had to follow.
“To Be Continued is the one I just finished – because it’s not over.”
Indeed, the project appears far from complete as the pandemic continues to rage.
Tougas is gathering newspaper clippings and articles, and picking up inspiration wherever she can.
“I heard a song on the radio the other day by Bon Jovi, ‘If you can’t do what you do, you do what you can.’
“I think that might be a really good start for a painting.”
When it was suggested that Signs from Five Man Electrical Band (“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign. Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind. Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?") might be a source for inspiration, she responded with excitement.
“Oh my God, I love that. I’m going to use that one. That’s better than Bon Jovi.”
She also started a journal to keep track of her thoughts – always keeping an open mind to a new inspiration – and ideas to put onto canvas.
The in-person exhibition at the Leir House Cultural Centre runs to Dec. 19.
The good news?
Visitors are welcome to attend Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays from noon to 6 pm.
COVID precautions will be followed including six people at a time in gallery spaces, contact tracing, and masks. If you don’t have a mask they are available for a $2 donation. For visiting times outside of those days, appointments can be made with one of the artists by request though the office.
The online exhibition will be live starting Saturday, November 14th at 1 pm as part of Arts Matter Online. All of the art work in the in-person exhibition will be viewable online.
For further information on artist Deb Tougas, click here.
As Deb's most-recent painting implies, the story is not over.
Neither is her inspiration to deal head-on with COVID-19 – by way of canvas.
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