Artist renews her muse in distant lands, comes home to play

Posted in Music, Spotlight, Visual Art

Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
Aug. 14, 2013

Siri Bardarson opened her iPad to a file she had titled “Twenty-four Twenty-fours.”  A colorful display materialized on the little, black screen; dozens of pages of “water-color paintings” she had created during her recent journey to Istanbul, a journey that took her far enough away to where she could get close to herself.

“You won’t be coming back,” prophesied the administrative official who went through the paper work with her when she decided to take a sabbatical year from teaching elementary school up in Oak Harbor. She needed that year to explore her creative, artistic well-springs.  She loved the kids and she loved teaching them. The time had come, though, for time to herself.

Siri Bardarson's "Cafe Alfredo Cappucino in Athens" where she saw "lots of old men visiting." (500x374)

Siri Bardarson’s “Cafe Alfredo Cappucino in Athens” where she saw “lots of old men visiting.”

She fully expected to return to work after devoting a year to her music and her writing. The security of a full-time teaching position awaited her and the pot was sweetened near the end of that year with an offer to return as the art teacher in her former school. That was the job she really wanted and had prepared herself to accept should it ever be offered.

But those beautiful little sketches she created on her iPad served as beacon lights, guiding her to an indistinct but compelling shore beyond the one to where she had believed she would be returning.

For three weeks and three days (Twenty-four Twenty-fours), she traveled from Istanbul to Bulgaria and then to Italy and Greece with her sister, Berit. She posted a running photo-journal of her travels that were often embellished with her digital reproductions of cafe and street scenes she witnessed along the way.

“I was amazed by the positive response to them,” she said. “I was reaching people through my creativity.”

Many people who know Bardarson, her music, her writing and other creative talents, might not be surprised by that, but for her, this sudden, satisfying realization was an epiphany. She would devote her life to creative expression. She would not be returning to work. The prophecy was fulfilled.

“More information comes to you when you are out of the system of having to know,” Bardarson said.

Bardarson said she captured this dude in Athens playing his accordion on the stairs across from me while she drew this. "A lot of the time the tunes in his right hand did not match the chords. I think he was playing and napping at the same time!" she said. (Photos courtesy of Siri Bardarson)

Bardarson said she heard someone playing an accordion on the stairs across from where she sat one day in Athens while she drew this. “A lot of the time the tunes in his right hand did not match the chords. I think he was playing and napping at the same time!” she said. (Photos courtesy of Siri Bardarson)

While in Bulgaria and Turkey, the multi-lingual artist/musician/teacher was confronted with the unsettling experience that comes from the inability to understand the speech of the people all around you.

“I’ve studied French and I speak Swedish and can understand some German,” she said, “but I could not find a way to access the languages people speak there [in Turkey and Bulgaria.]”

So she and her sister walked through the streets of Istanbul and visited the Blue Mosque and Hajia Sophia, stopping for leisurely breaks in cafes and bakeries where Bardarson took the time to create her sketches and to simply experience the sights and sounds around her. By the end of her trip, she had this marvelous visual record, an imaginative interpretation of all she had seen, heard, smelled and tasted. The accordion player across the street. The guide book to Istanbul lying on a table next to a bottle of water. Some old men sitting in a sidewalk cafe in Athens. Roses and yellow water cans in a villa in Bulgaria.

She shared them on her Facebook page and was thrilled to see the encouraging comments from her friends who viewed them. The connection was personal and gratifying and was the direct result of her acting on her creative impulse.

“I gave myself plenty of space. There were long periods [throughout the year] when it seemed as though nothing was happening. But a lot was happening.”

Just before her sabbatical began, she bought a new cello, an electric one, and a loop machine that would allow her to create solo shows. She named her act “sirithiri” and was soon landing gigs around the island. When guitarist Steve Trembley decided to perform more locally around his home here on Whidbey Island, he joined Bardarson for a number of gigs and the collaboration proved mutually fruitful.

Back home on the island, Bardarson captures a July super moon over Ebey's Landing.

Back home on the island, Bardarson captures a July super moon over Ebey’s Landing.

Although she resigned from her position in Oak Harbor, she is teaching again, this time by offering cello lessons to students at Click Music in Oak Harbor. She is getting back to writing again; songs, yes, but also fiction for both adults and children. She will also be doing some ghostwriting. A literary agent recently saw some of her work and offered her the job.

One other thing she has picked up again; her acoustic cello. Her collaboration with Trembley led to her rediscovery of her love for the warm, complex tones of the curvaceous, rich-voiced wood instrument. It has amplified her enthusiasm for performance.

“I’m doing very well,” she said.

“Sometimes I skip down my hall in the morning.”

Russell Clepper is a singer-songwriter who plies his trade locally and around the country. He also is a substitute teacher for the Oak Harbor School District.

Upcoming shows for Siri Bardarson and Steve Trembley:

  • 3-5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 18 at Bloom’s Taste for Art and Wine at the Bayview Cash Store in Langley.
  • 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21 at the Front Street Grill, 20 Front Street NW  in Coupeville. Reservations recommended: (360)682-2551.


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