Alana Barrell began falling in love with art at about the same time her paranoid schizophrenia took hold.
Nearly two decades later, at age 33, she still has to cope with terrifying hallucinations of vicious monsters and people with guns, but her bright, colourful art is the exact opposite of the nightmarish visions that torment her. Her art portrays whimsical scenes loaded with humour, love, fun and passion.
“It’s a lifelong, cyclical illness that she has,” her sister Liesl Barrell said. “Alana has been to hell and back.
“Some people ask if the painting helps her when she’s not well but what’s interesting is, she paints when she is in a good place. The longer she is painting, the more stable she is.”
Since March 7, Barrell has had her first solo exhibition on display at the Centre d’Apprentissage Parallèle de Montréal (CAP), located at 4865 St-Laurent Blvd. Liesl Barrell said the program has supported her sister in developing her talent and in her confidence as an artist with hopes of turning it into a career.
“I feel so pleased and excited,” Barrell said of seeing her work covering nearly every wall at the CAP. “When I was in school, I got inspired by drawing different models and still lifes and imaginary characters. It was something that interested me when I was 15.”
Given that her illness took hold at a young age, Barrell was unable to finish school. This exhibition, which ends March 31, serves as the graduation she never had, her sister said.
“Not only can she call herself an artist, but she must call herself an artist,” Liesl Barrell observed. “This is what she is meant to do. She is meant to develop this talent.”
Alana Barrell was born in South Africa. Her art depicts dancing people, vibrant animals and even self-portraits dating back to her time growing up in Africa and other parts of the world. Her family fled during South Africa’s apartheid and eventually settled in Canada, where Burrell was able to get on the road to recovery. Now, she divides her time between living in Verdun with her mother and Notre-Dame-de-Grâce with her sister. Both homes are decorated with Burrell’s lively paintings.
“I choose my colours in the spur of the moment,” Barrell explained. “I don’t really spend 15 or 20 minutes trying to decide. I do it to cheer people up. I use vibrant colours to get people in a good mood.”
Her sister added, “It’s very important for her that people feel happy looking at her art.”
Working in partnership with Santé Quebec, Emploi-Québec and the Fondation du Grand Montréal, the CAP was established in 1981. Its mission is to accompany people with emotional and psychological difficulties to facilitate their growth for social and professional integration through creative, therapeutic and educational activities.
“Art is a tool for us. It’s not a goal,” explained Xavier Bonpunt, the CAP’s general director and artistic director. The CAP, through its various programming, helps some 150 people a year. “She is an artist, but not a professional one yet. We hope this exhibition will help.”
Barrell’s exhibition was the second art show to be held at the CAP, but “now we will accelerate the rhythm,” said Bonpunt. He is already looking ahead to 10 additional exhibitions of a similar type that will all last about one month each.
Bonpunt said he has known Barrell for five years. “I have found in her work, a truth — a force — that’s incredible. For me, she is a real artist because when she is not painting, she doesn’t feel well. When she is painting, she feels better. It helps give her balance and that is very important for her.”