Barry and Kiyo Garner’s house in Harrison Hot Springs has the typical chaos of the weeks after a move. Boxes are still on the floor in the living room; shelves that would normally hold books or decor are bare.
But upstairs, at least one room is on it’s way to completion: the art room, where 82-year-old Barry has set up an easel and desk to work on his paintings.
“I was trying to draw Zorah, she’s older there,” Barry said, looking at the half-finished painting of his Afghan hound, Zorah. Behind the dog is a friend from Agassiz’s Monday Painters group, and with them is Barry’s wife Kiyo.
“My painting of Kiyo was not satisfactory,” he said. Although the painted Kiyo looks very similar to how she is in life, her eyes were darker than usual.
“It’s very difficult to do eyes, I think,” he said. “For me it’s impossible.”
Impossible is an overstatement for Barry, who had two paintings in his living featuring fairly well-painted eyes. But for someone who spends three months on a painting, painstakingly copying it from a photograph, such overstatement is not unexpected.
“If you take something up, you want to do it properly,” Barry said.
“That’s the kind of person he is,” his wife added.
Before Barry had ever thought of painting, he was a statistician, working as a professor in universities and institutes around the world. In 2006, Barry was approaching retirement. Kiyo had a plan to take his mind off math.
“I got so tired of watching him, day and night, pouring over his papers,” she said. “Working out his mathematical formulas continually. Seven days a week, 365 days a year.”
“I was like an obsession,” she added. “So I thought, enough. Enough of that.
“You know there’s more to life than just numbers.”
She told Barry he should take up painting. But the then-67-year-old wasn’t so sure.
“I said, ‘I can’t paint. I gave up painting when I was 13, I hated it,’” Barry said. “I was my worst class in school.”
But regardless of his supposed hatred for art, Barry got out an elementary book on painting. And whether it was some long-latent talent coming to light, or just sheer stubbornness, he kept at it.
Barry joined Agassiz’s Monday Painters, a group of artists who meet weekly at the Agassiz United Church to paint together.
For Barry, his first paintings were mostly landscapes, based off photos he had taken or found.
“They’re much easier to do than anything else,” he said. “If a tree’s a little bit off, nobody’s going to notice really.”
“If there’s something that’s not very attractive in the picture, you don’t put it in there,” he continued.
“What I’m trying to say is you’re in control of what you’re doing.”
Recently, Barry has started working on portraits, where the “impossible” eyes have become his bane.
One example is a portrait of a Syrian man that Barry copied from a Globe and Mail photo.
“Kiyo points out that I made this eye smaller than this one,” Barry said, looking critically at the painting. “It’s true, but it was true in the photograph, because I think he was blinking with the flash, you see. But it would have been better if I’d done it the right size.”
“Well, people have different size eyes,” Kiyo said.
“No, no. I’m sure his eyes are the same size really.”
This painting of the Syrian man, along with some of Barry’s other works will be showcased at the upcoming Monday Painters exhibit, taking place at the Agassiz United Church on Saturday, April 6.
As the featured artist, Barry will have 10 paintings in the one-day show. Other painters in the group will be featuring five each.
The show will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 6.