Artist Alana Barrell‘s latest exhibition, The Fabulous Bestiary, is part of the Mental Health Ambassadors project; encouraging people with psychological challenges to further develop their artistic skills to work through disturbing emotions and move towards wellbeing. Post-Covid resumption of art classes reminds Barrell and all of us to live life to the fullest. “Some days are dark, but there are always brighter colours waiting for us to paint a new story.”—Alana Barrell

New Exhibition part of CAP’s Mental Health Ambassadors Series

Tuesday, August 30 to Friday, September 30, 2022

 Le Centre d’Apprentissage Parallèle de Montréal (CAP) will present Alana Barrell’s third solo exhibition, The Fabulous Bestiary. This series forms part of the ambitious Mental Health Ambassadors project; encouraging people with psychological challenges to develop their artistic work in a supportive environment, using creativity to work through disturbing emotions and move towards wellbeing. On view from August 30 to September 30 at CAP Gallery, the free exhibition will feature Barrell’s new work as well as pieces from the last five years.

“COVID was a really hard time for me, and for everyone at the centre,” Barrell, 39, recalls. “I’d never been to the psych ward before, but in 2020 I was very ill and was hospitalized three times for three months in total.” During peak COVID, the various organizations Alana and her peers rely on for support and wellness were closed like most other establishments. The effects of quarantine, curfew and isolation were hard enough on the reasonably healthy, for those with pre-existing serious mental illnesses they were devastating. “I couldn’t paint anymore, I couldn’t do anything anymore, I was scared to leave the house and I was scared inside the house!”

As society slowly returned to the new normal, Barrell began her own tenuous journey towards recovery from another debilitating episode of her cyclical schizophrenia. CAP began offering classes again and she tentatively started going back, fighting her demons every step of the way. “It was really hard at first, and everyone else was so afraid as well; it made my illness worse. I’d worry about needing the bathroom when everything was closed because of COVID, I’d start seeing demons and guns everywhere. Sometimes I’d get to CAP only to turn right back around and go home, I just couldn’t do it. One time I was so anxious I threw up in my mask on the bus. It’s still difficult for me to leave the house some days.”

Despite these challenges, her perseverance has paid off. Barrell has assembled an exciting new body of work for her third solo exhibition after The Shortest Path, Usine C (2018) and Wild Characters, CAP (2017). CAP’s Artistic Director Xavier Bonpunt is thrilled to display her work again, sharing that “through the wide variety of creatures inspired by the animal world that she creates, she invents a unique bestiary that speaks to us of the living; that speaks of us.” Fascinated by animals, Barrell has always drawn from her upbringing around the world—across South Africa, Ethiopia, Canada, Singapore and Brunei—to create colourful creatures, real or imaginary, with a playful and whimsical eye.

In addition, for the first time in her life, Barrell is moving out of her family home after Labour Day to join one of the community living residences run by Forward House. Living with the ups and downs of schizophrenia can make achieving milestones like these harder for hundreds of thousands of Canadians. “In many ways, this is her coming of age, her leaving the nest and gaining more independence,” says her sister, Liesl Barrell. “Getting through the worst of the COVID era was tough, but now she’s ready to take this leap. I think for her as much as for any of us, living through lockdown renewed her resolve to live life to the fullest.”  

“I hope my paintings help other people see animals the way I see them,” shares Alana. “And to also see the world a bit differently. Some days are dark, but there are always brighter colours waiting for us to paint a new story.”

The Fabulous Bestiary

Artist Alana Barrell at CAP Gallery
VERNISSAGE: Tuesday, August 30 from 5:30 to 8 PM

EXHIBITION: August 31 through September 30

Mondays–Fridays 9 AM to 5 PM

CAP Gallery: 4865, boul. Saint-Laurent H2T 1R6