The whimsical and meaniful art of Petrolia’s Norman Barney


Walking into Norman Barney’s Petrolia studio is a bit of an assault to the eyes.

There are Indian teepees, artificial legs, a caged woman with babies implanted in her body and in every nook and cranny, boxes of what most people would consider items for Goodwill. But for Barney and his curious mind, the boxes are filled with artistic possibilities.

Barney takes the found and recycled items and creates works of art. Some of his work is on display at the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery in Sarnia along with eight “found object artists.”

Curiouser & Curiouser offers an opportunity to experience art work by eight emerging artists from across Canada, all working in their own unique way with assemblage, collage and found objects,” says Curator Lisa Daniels.  “Centered on the work of Petrolia artist Norman Barney, the exhibition will challenge your fixed perceptions about what art can be and how it can function in the world.”

Barney is excited about the show saying he’s been waiting for it for a long time. “When Lisa Daniels first came to be the curator she came out to see my work…She said she could give me a show right away (in 2008) …then she explained how she hoped to have a new gallery and I could wait until then.

“I said ‘I want the new gallery.’”

Barney says it is everything he’d hope. Curiouser & Curiouser is set up like a maze in the new gallery. “I didn’t know until I went in there what it was going to be like because she took more of my works than she used…The whole gallery is a maze. Every time you turn a corner, you see something you don’t expect.”

Some of Barney’s work has a message such as one piece – a table covered in items from the dollar store which comes alive when you walk by. “Everything we have seems to come from China,” says Barney. “When I first moved here it wasn’t that way.”

But not everything is deep, says the artist. “I find things, I laugh about it and it goes together.”

Whether it’s art with a message or something just for fun, Barney is excited to be exhibiting close to home.

“Having a class A gallery here has changed the possibilities and the hopes for a lot of artists,” he says. “They don’t have to move to Toronto.

“Sarnia-Lambton is really a great place to be a young artist and it was not before. There are a lot of 20-something artist in downtown Sarnia.”

Barney’s exhibit is on display until May 11. Barney will hold an artist talk tonight (Thursday) at JNAAG.