Victoria artist Eva Campbell is holding out hope that an important painting that has gone missing from the wall of a just-closed local meeting spot will still turn up.
Campbell’s two-by-three-foot depiction of a woman in a red bathing suit is on the major panel of a large four-piece work. It depicts a tourist with a telescope, on a beautiful beach in Barbados, watching slave ships from the past pass by.
“Through the telescope, she was able to see the history of the country,” explains Campbell, who based the painting on research she had done in Barbados a few years ago. The art is worth between $1,500 and $1,800, she said, and its loss is “quite upsetting.”
Titled Curiosities and Fantasies, the panel was last seen hanging at The WELL, a café/retail and meeting spot on Fort Street. The WELL went out of business over the Christmas holidays and former owner Hopeton Anderson is travelling internationally and can’t be located, Campbell said.
When Campbell heard the venue was closing, she contacted Anderson, who brought three of the four panels to her home two days before Christmas but said he hadn’t seen the fourth. He suggested she contact the operators of the food concession.
“I tried calling them many times over the holidays — never heard from them,” Campbell said.
Campbell, whose most recent show was in November at Exchanges Gallery, doesn’t know whether the panel was stolen or misplaced.
“It’s definitely not in the building — the landlord and I searched the whole thing,” she said. She called the Victoria police twice and they said they can’t do anything, suggesting it would be a civil case.
“I’m not a multimillionaire who can afford a lawyer,” said Campbell, who earned a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Victoria in 1994. “Now we don’t know what to do.”
The painting is not insured, she said, but has her name and the title on the back.
“I’ve always been wary of hanging paintings in places like this because I’m afraid this will happen: The [operator] person will go away and you won’t find it.”
Artist Roy Green posted on Facebook that he understood what she was going through: “I’ve probably had at least three or four paintings stolen over the years … and, alas, the owners or people responsible don’t care or can’t be contacted.”
Said Campbell: “This is the first and only time I did it and — I got burned.”
Then again, another work by Campbell that hung in The WELL ended up selling — one of the reasons artists display their work in high-traffic areas in the first place.
Jeanie Reynolds, co-ordinator of the Greater Victoria Community Arts Council, said venues typically require artists to sign contracts absolving the venues of any responsibility if works go missing.
It’s not something that’s raised often with her, and it’s not something that she thinks is “going on all the time,” Reynolds said.
The council has works on display at Victoria International Airport, where camera surveillance is in effect. Locks are used to secure pieces via cables on the walls or ceilings at other places such as the Bay Centre or the Greater Victoria Public Library main branch.
“We’re very careful about where we put work and why we put it there,” Reynolds said. “It’s up to the artist to feel comfortable with it or not. If they don’t feel comfortable with it, they don’t hang there.”
The council had displayed works at The WELL but it was decided it wasn’t a good fit, Reynolds said. No works were ever lost there.
“Artists have to have their own insurance or they have to take the loss, I believe,” Reynolds said. “It’s just one more complicated thing about being an artist.”
The WELL described itself on its website as a place decorated by artists to enjoy a community experience. It featured the Side Bar DeCafe, a reading area, a retail section for environmentally conscious products, and literary, musical and artistic events.
“There’s some incredibly talented people in this city,” Reynolds said. But “economically, it’s a hard time for artists to sell their work because artwork isn’t high on the list of absolutes. For me, it’s a necessity — part of what I have to have in my life.”
Campbell can be reached at email@example.com.
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