Royal City Gems – An Artist’s Tribute to Guelph

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By Jane Litchfield

Like many Guelphites, artist Barbara Salsberg Mathews caught the Guelph bug when she attended university here, and now she’s back. Salsberg Mathews enjoys capturing the story and mood in local landscapes using acrylics and mixed media and has recently turned her eye to Guelph icons such as the Petrie Building and the Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate. You can check out her work at Silence in October. We asked her a few questions so you could get to know her better. (We’re also grateful to have her as a Guelph Arts Council board and committee member.)

Petrie Building and Cutten-Kelly Block. Acrylic, 2019. Barbara Salsberg Mathews

GAC: Tell us about your art and how it has evolved. What inspires you?

BSM: I used to be a mime artist, illustrator, mask and puppet maker. Annick Press published two of my kids’ books when I was a teenager. Later, when teaching high school art, my drawing and painting students inspired me to get back to painting, which was something I had let lapse since B.C. (before children). Now I “grow” acrylic paintings. In the planning stages I use Photoshop. For example, in my painting, “1966 Impala at Rocky’s,” the sky needed a boost, calling out for something more dramatic. So I searched my image bank of sky photos, then replaced the original sky with the new one. I see each of my paintings as little universes, with their own moods and stories. I often use dramatic lighting as seen in “Bernardi Rooster.” When I start a painting, I sometimes apply a vibrant colour over the canvas, then add layers of various hues, and finally glazes to reveal the composition. I like to imagine the story within my work. For example, when painting the newly restored Petrie Building, I wanted to evoke mystery, so I made the wedding gowns ghost-like and added in a crow to guard the place. The beauty of places I come across right here in Guelph inspire me as an artist.

Tell us about your Guelph connection

BSM: I went to University of Guelph’s Fine Arts program after graduating from Ontario College of Art (now OCAD U). While in Guelph I met my husband, Bruce Mathews. He was a DJ at the Bullring, which was then a dance hall. (These days, Bruce hosts a CFRU radio show on Sundays at 6 p.m. called Zombie Jamboree.) I then became a high school art and drama teacher and raised a family in Toronto. Over the years I kept in touch with my Guelph friends and liked the slower pace of life here. After I retired as head of art at Northern S.S., Bruce and I moved back to Guelph. I like Guelph’s stunning architecture and rich local history. My upcoming show at Silence is my tribute to Guelph — my way of saying thank you for welcoming me back home and celebrating Guelph.

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1966 Impala at Rocky’s. Acrylic, 2019. Barbara Salsberg Mathews.

What supports do you recommend for artists in Guelph?

BSM: There are many Guelph supports starting with the Guelph Arts Council. There are also various art classes offered through places like Wyndham School of Art, and galleries, including the Art Gallery of Guelph and Renann Isaacs Contemporary Art (RICA). The Guelph Open Studio Tour also offers a wealth of inspiration for artists.

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Barbara Salsberg Mathews in the studio. Courtesy of the artist.

Where can people see your work?

BSM: My solo show, “Royal City Gems — An Artist’s Tribute to Guelph” will be at Silence, 46 Essex St., from October 2 to 27. The opening reception is Friday, October 4, 7-9 p.m., with an artist’s talk at 7:30 p.m. People can also connect with me through my website with inquiries about my art and find me on instagram @growingart_bsm 

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