In times of stress and unrest – there is the undeniable draw of nature, the certainty that no matter how bad things get, the sun continues to rise and set every day. Many of us are now taking the time to stop and appreciate what East End painters have always known, there is a deep nurturing spirit that comes from communing with the land.
For expressionist artist Beth Barry who has a longtime home in the Springs, just down the street from one of the most picturesque settings in the Hamptons, it is not only about capturing the landscape but the feeling of the landscape. “With COVID, time has stopped in some weird way,” says Barry, “People take more time to be in nature and appreciate it more and aren’t rushing off. You stop and feel.” In other words, it’s not just about an Instagram moment.
Barry has never loved the isolated part of being an artist and during COVID has found inspiration by FaceTiming with a friend while they paint together. She sees the creative ways people are coming together while being apart. She just completed a painting for a museum in Athens which is collecting 12” x 12” canvases from artists all over the world for a retrospective book.
She also finds that people are eager to buy original art. “I’ve sold quite a bit of work over this time as people’s space is so much more important as they spend more time in their homes,” she explains. She also knows about the healing properties of art, having trained after art school at Pratt as an art therapist. “I met my husband in a psychiatric unit when he was at medical school and I was the art therapist on the unit,” she says with a laugh, “It was love at first sight.” She explains, “The creative process is very therapeutic in and of itself. The finished product has to work conceptually, compositionally and color wise but there’s something about the process that is curative because you are in another place. It’s very magical.”
Acrylic has become her preferred medium. “It’s not toxic and I can explore color. I also like the immediacy of it drying quickly.” She is drawn to primary colors and the emotion they convey. While her style may not be representational, it is still rooted in reality. “I want to look at abstraction through normal space. I want to understand foreground and middle ground and background and how it works with more abstract shapes and makes sense visually. I often use a horizon line.”
It is literally a bird’s eye view which first inspired her, marveling at the way the earth looked from the sky in an airplane during her inaugural flight. “As the plane moved the images seemed to move as well. The shapes bounced and swayed in their own rhythmic way.”
Early abstract painters also influenced her sense of personal style such as Richard Diebenkorn a painter in the ‘50s and ‘60s in California, Milton Avery, and Wolf Kahn who painted in the Hamptons for years. She comments, “I wish there were a few women on that list but that has certainly changed.” And now it is close to home that she finds her inspiration. “I noticed all these turtle crossing signs going up so I decided to paint the turtle at the side of the road,” she says smiling, “You have to keep a sense of whimsy.” And her advice for these trying times, “We need to have compassion for nature and for ourselves.”