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Artist shares eclectic vision in new exhibit
by Jebb Johnston
Aug 08, 2017 | 1475 views | 0 0 comments | 64 64 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The work of artist Karen Barclay is being featured in a two-location exhibit at the Corinth Artist Guild Gallery and the Corinth Library. The gallery opening reception is Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. / Staff photo by Jebb Johnston
The work of artist Karen Barclay is being featured in a two-location exhibit at the Corinth Artist Guild Gallery and the Corinth Library. The gallery opening reception is Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. / Staff photo by Jebb Johnston
As early as age six, Karen Barclay filled giant canvases with landscape paintings.

“No one told me that kids weren’t supposed to do that,” said the 1972 McNairy Central High School graduate and art instructor of 37 years.

In a bit of good fortune for her creative impulses, she has been similarly undeterred from the many creative pursuits she has embraced through the years.

“If I’m interested in something, I master it,” she said.

Sculpture, tapestry and antique teddy bear restoration are just a few of the obsessions she conquered.

Barclay’s work is featured in a new exhibit showing at both the Corinth Artist Guild Gallery and the Corinth Library auditorium. The gallery will host an opening reception with the artist on Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m.

Describing herself as “an Air Force brat,” Barclay was always on the move with her parents while growing up. Her mother was from McNairy County, and her grandparents, the Smiths, ran a one-room country store at the turnoff to Guys on Highway 45.

“When my father retired near the end of the Vietnam War, they had to put me in school someplace, so I got to go with the southern grandparents,” said Barclay. “The day I walked into McNairy Central High School, they were integrated and consolidated on the same day.”

Coming to the school as a “hippie from California,” it made for an interesting mix.

During her time there, she was a student of the late George Souders, the longtime art teacher, who became a mentor to Barclay.

Later, after pursuing a triple major at Rhodes College and earning a master of fine arts degree at the University of Memphis, she became a teacher alongside him at the school before leaving for Tupelo.

Barclay enjoys working in mixed media, acrylic and watercolor, and the large exhibit features a number of different stylistic approaches.

“There are so many flavors here,” said Artist Guild President Sonny Boatman. “She’s long been a student of art and a teacher of art, which is reflected in the many styles she attacks so successfully.”

Barclay has a story or three to tell with every piece. The subject of “Goldfinch,” for example, gave her not just a painting of a bird visiting his favorite flowers but also a pet.

“I stalked that poor bird for a week-and-a-half until I finally got a photograph of it,” she said. “Every time I shot, he flew. I had the flowers already painted, and that was his favorite one to sit on. Finally, he sat there and looked at me. He’s kind of glaring.”

She made him a birdhouse and named him Rupert.

“He came back to the same nesting site until he died,” she said. “I finally got him so he would get on my fingers. Nobody told me you couldn’t train them.”

Then there’s the painting of her three yellow lovebirds — Larry, Curly and Moe.

“My female lovebird mated at 15 years old and had them in her food bowl,” she said.

Several pieces are detailed closeups of machinery, such as the innards of a John Deere tractor.

“These are realism, but, because of the scale of them, it becomes abstraction,” said Barclay, whose heroes include Van Gogh and Georgia O’Keeffe.

Her mother’s flowers are represented.

“My mother loved flowers,” said Barclay. “She was an ikebana flower arranger. She was taught by the best Japanese flower arrangers while we were in Japan.”

Among the local flavor at the library is “Sharp’s Barn” from Guys, Tenn., along with some other Southern genre scenes.

The exhibit also includes a number of assemblage pieces which were part of a challenging assignment from her mentor to get out of her comfort zone. The dimensional works incorporate lettering, graphics and mixed media. Perhaps her favorite is “Karma Chameleon,” which portrays the “red, gold and green” lyrics of the 1983 Culture Club hit.

Her creative energy has run into some struggles this year. Her mother passed away in January, and tears flowed after delivering the work to the gallery and realizing her mother wouldn’t be there to see it. She also severely broke her right hand in a fall.

“I have to paint to stay sane,” said Barclay. “It’s my one solace.”

The good news is that the hand is getting better, and she finds no shortage of inspiration.

“I will never live long enough to do the ideas in my head,” she said.

(The gallery exhibit at 609 North Fillmore runs through Sept. 9. Works will remain at the library through Oct. 2.)

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