On a sunlit wall in the Maple Ridge Library, one piece of art stands out from the rest.
The piece is without canvas or paint. Rather, a tapestry falls from a crooked maple branch that was likely shed by the tree during a storm. It’s made up of thousands of knots,tied over many, many hours.
Created by macramé artist Kim Barrington, Surf is an incredibly personal piece.
“I can track every mental breakdown I had during the pandemic in that piece,” she says.
The last few years have been tough on Barrington. Her father was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer and in the wake of the news, she didn’t practise art for a long time.
“The inspiration comes and goes,” she says.
Following the news, she didn’t create anything for about six months. There were half-finished pieces all around her farmhouse.
“My art can be a source of release,” she says, “but sometimes it can’t.”
Eventually, she was able to pick the pieces up again and complete them. Surf is among the pieces she finished at that time, as well as a 19-inch tree of life, whose strands flow almost as tall as the artist.
Surf is a macramé first for the self-taught artist. Barrington used a technique called macraweave to incorporate wool into the piece. The braided pieces of navy, aqua and gray play off each other, transforming into waves.
Barrington has long been an artist, using more traditional mediums of paint and charcoal, but there was something about creating an object she could touch and feel and interact with off the page that captured her.
She made macramé jewellery as a teen, learning the knots from her late brother’s ex-girlfriend
Macramé is really similar to drawing – you’re creating something from nothing. “But the work of knot-tying, it’s very meditative, which has really helped me and that’s when I started getting into the bigger pieces.”
Barrington recently read a piece that resonated with her about making art by hand.
“Things that we make by hand come out of that place inside of ourselves. For me, that’s like inside my chest. It’s the same place anxiety comes from,” she says. “So it’s not just the linear act of tying a knot over and over and over again, which is very meditative. … There’s something about that tactile fabric art that it feels like it comes from my soul.”
Barrington moved to Maple Ridge twenty years ago as a teen. At the time, she had planned to attend art school, even taking a spring course at Emily Carr University of Art + Design but life had other plans.
Her older brother struggled with addiction while she was growing up, eventually dying of a fentanyl overdose in 2019.
“He was clean for many years,” she recalls.
Her brother’s addiction, parents’ divorce and an undiagnosed anxiety disorder meant that Barrington spent most of her teenage years in “survival mode” and never felt safe or confident to explore her own interests and the world, the way most teenagers do.
Before the pandemic, Barrington managed a local coffee shop and, like her husband, had made a career for herself in the retail management world.
“The pandemic, I think it made a lot of people just sit with themselves and realize: what do they really want to do,” she says. “I couldn’t see myself continuing to do that [retail management] when I know that the world needs help right now.”
She got into support work and now helps out a family a few times a week. The opportunity has also allowed her to focus more time on her art.
Barrington will be one of 42 artists in the 2022 Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows Art Studio Tour, which is scheduled for May 7 and 8. She is the only macramé artist and is slated to display her work alongside four painters at the farthest west stop on the tour, Judy Osiowy’s studio, located at 13916 Reichenbach Road in Pitt Meadows.
It’s an exciting opportunity for Barrington. The library show, which features pieces created by artists in this year’s studio tour, was her first professional exhibition.
Her work explores the theme of interconnectedness. During the last few years, she’s gotten more in touch with her spirituality.
“While I don’t consider myself a religious person at all, I consider myself open to what is happening, what this is,” she says with an open gesture. “A lot of that passion comes through nature. So when I’m in nature, I feel that and then I try and reflect that in my art and the strands of cotton start at the top, they all combine together, they all go back down. So it’s all connected and that interplay of interconnectedness and tension and intentionality about how it works is why I find myself more passionate about this than I was about other art in the past.”
Like other artists, Barrington has some pieces she works on to help pay the bills while others fill her creative cup. She can bang out hanging plant holders in under 30 minutes but other pieces, like Surf and the Tree of Life, take hours.
Those longer pieces sometimes get extended when her perfectionism comes out and she unties knots to get the piece just right.
“A knot is a physical representation of labour,” she says. “It’s one little thing that I did and now it’s done and then I’ll continue along the strand and then I’m like, I don’t like that, and I have to go all the way back and take them out.”
But everything remains in her control.
Barrington is scheduled to have her large Tree of Life on display at the tour. She says she’s already dreaming of future projects.
“If the universe allows me a moment of time, I would really like to incorporate multimedia, so incorporate my microwave with maybe painting or drawing,” she says.
She knows she’ll have to commit plenty of time to the project and with two cats and a young daughter at home, she understands why artists make use of backyard studios.