Light in the Landscape

Spring Thaw, acrylic on canvas, 36” x 48.”
Niagara Falls, acrylic on canvas, 12” x 16.”

The Link, Autumn 2018
| by Josie Newman |

When Bärbel Smith, a Canadian landscape artist, plans a new painting her inspiration begins at a spiritual and emotional level.

“I am a faith-based artist and try to incorporate my faith in the light-filled canvases I paint,” says the Colborne-based painter who has produced more than 1,000 works since the early 1980s. She began painting at the age of eight.

That light is found in most of her paintings, including this magazine’s cover piece Autumn Glow and her latest series of paintings which depict the Northern Lights.

“…her inspiration begins at a spiritual and emotional level.”

Smith’s style was originally one of realism, but she moved away from that into abstraction and stylized landscapes approximately 15 years ago. “When I paint, I first take photos or [draw] sketches and colour studies of the subject matter. I just got tired of looking at photos and transcribing what I saw and now prefer to interpret what’s there through my own lens and viewpoint.” Smith and her husband Dave, a former Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor, have travelled across Canada and visited 29 provincial parks in Ontario to gather the scenes for her paintings.

She says she was influenced by the works of artists Lawren Harris, a member of the Group of Seven and Emily Carr, a famous Canadian painter who portrayed scenes of indigenous peoples on the west coast of Canada. Harris was strongly influenced by theosophy, a mystical branch of religious philosophy. His spirituality informed many of his later works.

Another major influence on Smith’s shift to interpretive painting was the illness of her youngest son, Nathan, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2005. His illness spurred her into painting more frequently.

“My art and my faith were my solace during that tough time. I almost lived at The Hospital for Sick Children when he was first diagnosed. The good news is he’s fine now and attending university,” says Smith, who is also the mother of eight other children.

In keeping with the increase in her artistic productivity the past few years, Smith transformed her Colborne studio into an art gallery earlier this year. “We expanded the space so it is now accessible from the street. We put in windows and track lighting to showcase the paintings. There are 15 to 20 on display at any given time,” she says.

Smith teaches art in her gallery and intermittently holds classes for young children or teens, too. She previously taught art for many years at the library in Colborne.

Barbel Smith’s studio is located at 16 Robertson Street, Colborne. Open Tuesday through Friday from 10 am to 4 pm with the exception of Thursday when it is open until 6 pm. Prints of her work are also for sale online at

Josie Newman, a previous full-time journalist who now works freelance, is a lifelong writer and lover of the arts. She lives in Oshawa, in an older house surrounded by antiques, plants and cats.

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