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For artists, online is the next-best thing to being there

Works by Elmira artist Brent Schreiber are on display in a virtual show at the Westland Gallery in London. [Damon Maclean]

Like many artists, Elmira-based painter Brent Schreiber has had to adapt to the realities of the coronavirus situation, particularly shifting to an internet presence. That’s worked to differing degrees – musicians, for instance, can live-stream concerts, but the medium is less dynamic for visual artists.

For Schreiber, there’s really no replacement for experiencing art in person, as intended. But a gallery show such as the one he’s part of just now is still a welcome option.

Born in London, Ontario, Schreiber found himself in Woolwich after he picked up a job in St. Jacobs. He had worked a career in advertising for some 20 years when he decided to pursue art as his full-time career instead of just a hobby on the side.

Throughout his life, he found himself to be “drawn to [art] and has always considered it “a comfort zone,” one he moved into in pursuit of an artistic career.

“I had something happen in my life, went through a few things and I kind of lost track of the art a bit in my 20s, and in [my] 30s that came back. I hit the age of 33/34 and I’d been in the advertising world for 15 years, and I just kind of decided I wanted to do the art. I was like, ‘OK, if you’re going to try this, you better do it now while you can’ – I’ve just stuck with it through everything for the last ten years and through all the ups and downs.”

Works by Elmira artist Brent Schreiber are on display in a virtual show at the Westland Gallery in London. [Damon Maclean]

The world of art is an industry with little consistency and many “ups and downs,” as Schreiber puts it. With irregular work hours, no real downtime or having to be ready when creativity strikes, there is no 9 to 5, making it hard to balance life and art together. Add in the current pandemic, and things become even trickier.

“It’s been difficult, especially in the art community, because so much of it is based on face-to-face interactions and seeing things in person. And that interaction talking about the work and not being able to do that, [makes it difficult],” said Schreiber.

Given all the additional time many have had due to the COVID-19 lockdown, one might think artists would see some benefits, but that’s not been Schreiber’s experience.

“I found it very difficult at times to paint. In the past, I’d be able to work for eight or nine hours straight at a time and it was a real up-and-down valley through this period, because there’s times I could really focus in and just really kind of put the pedal down. Other times I can only work for maybe two to three hours at a time, and just get really restless,” he said.

Schreiber is one of six realism artists that have work on display at the Westland Gallery show down the road in London. The gallery has represented Schreiber over the past two years. Other artists include Nancy Calder from Stratford, John Krygsman from London, Sandy Murphy from Aurora, Kristy Blackwell from Toronto and Denise Antaya from Kingsville. The gallery launch was different than usual and was broken down into three sections to ensure social distancing and other COVID-prevention practices were being met.

Works by Elmira artist Brent Schreiber are on display in a virtual show at the Westland Gallery in London. [Damon Maclean]

Schreiber’s collection is the largest he’s had on display at a time, and he says he’s proud of the work he has been able to create.

“The pieces I used in this were completed over the last eight months. It’s a little break in my usual work. For the last 10 years, I’ve worked primarily as a very detail-oriented, very realistic traditional painter in the portrait and figure category, which I’ve had a lot of success with,” he said, noting the change was “much needed.”

While many artists have gone online out of necessity, there’s nothing like a live audience. In the case of fine art, in particular, Schreiber encourages people to take in the experience.

“It is [important] to get out to support your local artists… visual arts, music, dance, whatever it could be, because we do need an audience. And I think that’s one of the hard things right now everyone’s so used to looking at things on their phones. These things really do need to be seen in person, and the artists appreciate it. So much of what happened, and how people dealt with getting through this situation we’ve been in is looking at art, whether it be music, TV, movies, reading – whatever it is, those are all produced by artists, and they need that support because that stuff doesn’t get created in a vacuum.”

The show is open to the public through July 18. More information can be found on the Westland Gallery website, and Schreiber’s work can be viewed via his website.

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