“Home Work” at Gallery 302 in Bridgton features artwork made during the stay-at-home order. Courtesy of Karen McDonnell

BRIDGTON — Karen McDonnell’s oil paintings take her months to complete. The process is long and meticulous because of the nature of oil painting: it is layers upon layers and each needs to dry properly before the next can be added. When the governor announced the “Stay Safer at Home” order in March and everything suddenly shut down, McDonnell thought, “At least I can get a lot of painting done.”

Instead, she hit a creative block.

“I could go back to (a painting) the next day and not have any mental connection to it at all,” McDonnell said.

In the four months since then, she was only able to finish one painting that she had started before the quarantine. It’s a painting with a quote from Albert Camus, the French philosopher, that reads, “There was in me an invincible summer.”

A painting by Karen McDonnell with a quote from Albert Camus that reads, “There was in me an invincible summer.” Courtesy / Karen McDonnell

“When I first started painting it, I was very optimistic. When the pandemic hit, I started questioning it myself … That’s part of the reason I couldn’t finish it,” McDonnell said.

She finally finished the painting about two weeks ago and it’s one of the pieces in “Home Work,” a new exhibition at Gallery 302. The co-op Bridgton gallery reopened last week and is operating on a limited schedule.

“Home Work” features art by about 20 of the more than 40 artists from Gallery 302. Each piece was made during the stay-at-home order, said gallery President Kate Krukowski Gooding.

“It’s interesting the art that came out (of) this time. It’s one of our best shows. The colors are vibrant and passionate, there’s verbiage in there, there’s reawakening signs. It’s really, really unique,” Gooding said.

Gooding, an artist herself who specializes in pottery, said that she found that during the stay-at-home order there were two types of artists.

“Closing the doors gave people a chance to reflect and also flourish. Others (had) a huge creative block.”

Dan Paulding, who specializes in oil, pastel and charcoal, said that his process didn’t really change.

“As an artist, I generally work at home in my studio room alone,” he said. “I’m still working in my studio room alone most of the time. It really hasn’t changed that much.”

“John’s Bird” by Elaine McConnell is one of the pieces featured in the Bridgton exhibit. Courtesy photo

Paulding said he doesn’t use art in a political or emotional way like others might.

“I like to make things that I think are beautiful. If I can add some beauty to the world, that’s the way I can (relieve) the stress and anxiety and anger that’s out there.”

While some things in Paulding’s process changed – the figure drawing that’s in “Home Work” came from a website that provides reference photos, rather than an in-person model – he still drew every day.

McDonnell, on the other hand, said that the “weird loss of a sense of time” totally interrupted her mental process. Painting is usually a therapeutic process for her; she recalled that when she’s had injuries and was in a lot of pain, she only felt relief while painting.

“I kind of wish I had been able to do that, (to) lose myself in that,” McDonnell said. “My brain couldn’t focus for long enough.”

McDonnell eventually found that sketching worked best for her, but also invested her time in the gallery’s new “Third Thursday Art Mart.”

Gooding said that June is usually the beginning of their busy season and anywhere from 30 to 130 people might come through the gallery’s doors in a day. Since both the gallery and the artists both sustain themselves with proceeds from sales, Art Mart is a way to stay connected to the community while supporting the gallery.

The Art Mart is the gallery’s first ever virtual art show and sale. With the gallery operating on a limited schedule, McDonnell, Gooding and artist Catherine Freeman came up with the idea to start monthly Facebook Live shows where patrons could hear about the latest exhibit and place offers on pieces.

McDonnell said the idea was modeled after the monthly open gallery nights in Providence, Rhode Island, where she used to live. She said that the show on Thursday, June 18, was a test run of sorts but hopes to continue to do this permanently.

The “Home Work” exhibit is on display now at Gallery 302, 112 Main St., Bridgton. 647-2787, gallery302.com.

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