Local galleries share what kind of art is selling, how people are buying it, and why some artists have been faring well during the pandemic
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, Mountain Galleries wasn’t sure what to expect.
Would anyone come out to buy art? Would visitors return to Whistler?
“It’s been better than we expected, honestly,” says Liz Peacock, co-director and gallery manager. “We all thought we wouldn’t see anyone. Nobody would come. It was so unknown.”
Even though international visitors haven’t returned, there have been plenty of people from the Lower Mainland and around Canada who have been in search of art.
“We have been limited to Canadian visitors,” she says. “What we’re seeing is our clients are drawn to landscapes that are a little more meaningful to them or have that feeling of home.”
One example: some clients who take an annual trip to Hawaii had to forgo the trip this year and instead, decided to buy a couple paintings inspired by that location to commemorate all the past vacations.
“Another example was some clients that visit Lake Louise every year,” Peacock says. “They bought a beautiful painting [of it] to have on their wall as this year they didn’t have a chance to go.”
Similarly, people have been enticed by Corrinne Wolcoski’s paintings of Howe Sound. “People have really been drawn to those because it is that feeling of home and that feeling of coming up the highway to Whistler,” she says. “They’re very calm, serene paintings. That’s something people have wanted in their lives.”
For Wolcoski, the goal is to capture and convey the emotion you feel when you look at a real-life landscape.
“When a client sees the work and they respond to it, it’s really meaningful to me because it means they get it,” she says. “Somehow, I was able to capture that moment, and they can see it too. For me, that’s amazing (that) I can share that with people.”
In typical years, Wolcoski, who lives in Vancouver, travels up and down the West Coast, taking photos or doing quick oil sketches of scenes then heads back to her studio to paint them.
The pandemic, however, has forced her to explore a little closer to home—which has been a blessing in its own way.
“Instead of going way up the coast to Alaska and back, I’ve gone 10 minutes from my house and found the same beauty,” she says. “I’m finding these hidden places of inspiration. That’s been a new adventure for me.”
Serene landscapes aside, the other thing people have been drawn to during this time—after months and months of spending more time at home—has been making their living space as appealing as possible.
To that end, Ben McLaughlin, designer and director of communications with the gallery, has seen his wood furniture gain popularity.
“He’s been really busy this summer,” Peacock adds. “People are spending so much more time at home. They’re spending that time revitalizing their living spaces, surrounding themselves with something meaningful, of high quality, and something that gives them pleasure.”
Mountain Galleries has a few options to help clients find the best art for their homes. One practical one that was popular at the beginning of the pandemic when life—and jobs—were uncertain, was the lease-to-own option. Another was the gallery’s 30-day guarantee.
“It allows them to live with the artwork for 30 days and get a full refund,” Peacock says. “That’s working a lot better for clients at the moment.”
Another tool is their virtual installation in which people send them a photo of their living room with wall dimensions and they provide an image of what the art would look like in their home.
“We try to make it as easy and accessible as possible for people,” Peacock says.
At the Adele Campbell Gallery, they’ve also been offering a digital mock-up service for people—and have seen huge uptake.
“It is a really useful technique, which allows clients to digitally ‘try before they buy,’ so to speak, or to help narrow down choices,” explains Charlotte Webber, assistant gallery director. “Some clients aren’t sure what they are looking for, but know they need something; in these cases, we are happy to provide suggestions and work with the client to find their perfect piece. Our digital mock-up service is open to all and is free of charge.”
Unsure of what might look best on your wall? They can help with that too—all from the comfort of a laptop via email.
“Some people don’t know what they want,” Webber says. “They say, ‘I want something colourful or wildlife or abstract. This is the space. Can you make some suggestions?’ We’re happy to come up with suggestions and give ideas.”
Their clients haven’t been drawn to one style of art—it’s been all over the map during the pandemic, she adds.
“Rather than one specific style being our most popular, all of our artists and their varying techniques and subject matters have been receiving a lot of love,” Webber says. “Throughout COVID, we’ve found homes for a really diverse range of paintings, which is wonderful.”
Still, the fact remains that many of the gallery’s more than 40 Canadian artists create work inspired by the landscape and wildlife in their home country. “As we’ve all had to stay a little ‘closer to home’ this summer, it’s allowed people to appreciate the beauty of Canada and the artworks it inspires,” Webber says.
Those artists, meanwhile, have arguably been better suited than most people to weather the pandemic.
“We’re always in touch with our artists,” Webber says. “At the beginning of COVID, like lots of people, … they felt apprehensive about things. It feels they almost retreated to their studios. They’ve all been painting—and we’ve received lots of new work. I don’t think anybody’s style has changed, but lots of the artists said they had more time to spend on their art and they enjoyed spending a bit more time painting; they didn’t have as many other commitments.”
In the end, Peacock says, people are still interested in supporting local artists, and local businesses.
“We found that people have really been supportive of the local artists, Canadian artists and the galleries,” she says. “It’s like everyone has been wanting to support local business to keep people going in any way they can.”
To see pieces by each of the galleries’ artists—or learn more about how to buy art from either afar or in person—head to mountaingalleries.com and adelecampbell.com, and check out the list of Whistler galleries on the next page.