Making peace with her own body led to Barbara Maye's dramatic portraits of others.

Barbara Maye’s Asanas speak of somatic shanti

New paintings for Barbara Maye explore the beautiful diversity of the human form.

Asanas are the poses taken in yoga that allow the practitioner to settle in to their own body, and not coincidentally is also the name of Barbara Maye’s current show at Studio Connexion.

From a portrait in blue and red of feet to a green head, the new paintings feature models from Nakusp holding their bodies in various poses.  The way they are painted makes it difficult to recognize each person, unless you have an intimate knowledge of the way their particular body moves and bends. And intimate is what these paintings are, with each one representing the variety and beauty of every body with love and respect.

“My previous show Llunio was about making peace with my own body,” Barbara Maye told me when I spoke with her at the gallery, “the models for Asanas were all local people, some had never done yoga before.”

Maye’s feelings towards her own body changed radically when she traveled to the Yosadhara Ashram near Nelson. During her stay, her yoga study led her to finally make peace with her own body and to appreciate the vast differences in the human form.

“If it weren’t for our variety,” she said, “we would be so bored.”

Each portrait started with a two-hour session where the painter took over 100 photographs to capture the model.

“Everyone had issues with their body,” Barbara Maye revealed, “either they were struggling with not being well, or with their weight, or with how they looked, or with never having done something like this before.”

During the process of painting the models, she found herself drawn to particular colours for each portrait. To her, the colours felt like they came from the models, as though she perceived something intuitively that came out in her creative process.

“The colours [chose] me,” Maye said, noting that the painting was more difficult with this series than Llunio because the palette changed with every painting.

All the Asana paintings are extremely colourful, and they are all very large. There are seven different stages to each painting, beginning with an abstract under-painting and finishing with mica flakes being applied.

Because of the nature of the process she undertook in the series, “easy” paintings took between 40 to 60 hours. Ones with more detail, like hands and feet, took much longer.

The price of the canvases may be out of reach for most people, but even if they sell, it’s clear that Maye is doing it for the joy of it as the money does not equal the time, effort and materials that have gone into each one. High-quality prints and cards are also available, which makes the art more accessible, which Maye really appreciates.

Both she and Anne Béliveau understand that buying art is particularly difficult for people in tough economic times such as these.

Barbara Maye also teaches art, and is hoping to take the ideas behind Asanas into the classroom.

“I struggled with body image,” said Barbara Maye, noting that many kids in school could benefit from learning to love their bodies sooner rather than later.

She is curious from the learning she would find in school talking with kids, and is interested to see where kids are at these days, as they are so heavily inundated with media images.

The educational process is something the artist really enjoys, and something she has seen shift as she moves on in her art.

“I was self-absorbed before,” she said of herself in her younger days, “now I actively try to communicate.”

Learning through teaching has been a large part of the shift, opening up the creative process to her students.

“It was really big and new and good for me,” Maye revealed, “This time people got to see me struggle. They saw it was normal to struggle, to get stuck, to get scared.

“We’re so afraid to make mistakes, of being judged, but the best art comes from making mistakes.”

She sees community as the ability to be your true self, staying true to your heart, around others.

Barbara Maye knows this radical acceptance of perceived mistakes or imperfections lies at the heart of the Asanas show.

“I think that’s why these [paintings] are so intimate. It is so much easier just to be, when you know you’re not alone.”


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