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Barrell returns to arts scene with third solo exhibition

Alana Barrell poses in front of her "Birds" painting at CAP Gallery in Montreal, on display as part of her Fabulous Bestiary exhibition. Photo: J. Stoopler
Alana Barrell poses in front of her "Birds" painting at CAP Gallery in Montreal, on display as part of her Fabulous Bestiary exhibition. Photo: J. Stoopler
Montreal - Thursday, December 8, 2022

by Jordan Stoopler

2020 proved to be a trying year for Alana Barrell. The 39-year-old, diagnosed with schizophrenia some 25 years ago, found herself hospitalized on three separate occasions for a total of three months. Once back home, she would sleep for upwards of 18 hours a day, only leaving her bed every now and then for a quick bite to eat. 

It was also during this time that Barrell stepped away entirely from painting, a passion she has had since she was 15. 

“Because of her cyclical illness, she has her own personal pandemic every couple of years,” said Alana’s sister Liesl Barrell. “If she is unwell, she cannot paint. She can’t touch anything.”

Alana would pick up the paintbrush again last year, producing dozens of new works that were the focus of her third solo exhibition, the “Fabulous Bestiary.” The exhibit, put on as part of the le Centre d'apprentissage parallèle de Montréal (CAP)’s Mental Health Ambassadors Series, featured a wide variety of works, depicting everything from an elephant to birds, a platypus and a dinosaur, among others. CAP supports people living with mental health problems through art and art therapy.

“Part of the thrust of the exhibit is this idea of the bestiary life: the real, the imagined, the combined,” said Liesl. “It tackles schizophrenia and the power of psychosis in terms of this bestiary.”

Many of the smaller paintings originated from the CAP gallery itself, where Alana has painted weekly for a decade. The inclusive space, located at 4865 St-Laurent Blvd., offers alternatives to traditional clinical therapies in the form of painting, theatre, dance and music, among others. 

“There were a lot of visitors for this exhibit,” said CAP’s artistic director Xavier Bonpunt. “Many visitors came who were interested in the work. Alana is very loyal to us and produces amazing work. We will continue to support her.”

Some of the larger paintings, meanwhile, emanated from her mother’s house. 

“My mom is very supportive,” said Alana. “She lets me paint at her home in a small little area. I have my own easel and inks there, as well as all the other materials you can imagine. She helps me sometimes with coming up with ideas or gives her opinion. She has been a good mentor for me.”

Alana has since moved out of her mother’s home and into the Forward House community living residence in Notre-Dame-de-Grace, marking the first time she has lived without family in her lifetime. She has taken up improv, creative writing, singing and other activities at the residence.

“When she is feeling well and in her element, she unleashes this creativity,” said Liesl. “It is very therapeutic. She is able to process a lot of her emotions. For her, it seemed very motivating to make people feel good and smile through bright colours.”