Plympton-Wyoming artist Gary Spearin chats with Lambton County Deputy Warden Ian Veen and Quebec artist Diane Landry at the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery Thursday. Both artists will have exhibits on display at the JNAAG from April into July. (Barbara Simpson/Sarnia Observer/Postmedia Network/April 1,2016)

Gary Spearin may be the most well-known artist who is also little-known in Sarnia-Lambton.

While his paintings have hung in galleries from Calgary through to Halifax, Spearin, who moved to Plympton-Wyoming close to a decade ago, still hasn’t become a household name locally.

“Gary is probably the best kept secret in Lambton County,” said Lisa Daniels, curator and director of the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery.

But the painter’s work won’t be a secret locally once his latest collection lines the walls of the downtown Sarnia gallery.

Spearin and Quebec City artist Diane Landry will be kicking off exhibits – running simultaneously over the next four months – with a joint opening reception Friday.

Gallery and county officials offered a special preview of the exhibits to local media Thursday morning.

The new exhibits are the first following the county-owned gallery’s wildly popular Masterworks of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery exhibit that ended in February.

More than 15,000 people visited the high-profile exhibit during its four-month stop in Sarnia.

Gallery staff have found it an “interesting challenge” to find new exhibits in the wake of Masterworks’ success, Daniels said Thursday.

But after a visit to Spearin’s home studio followed by a visit to see Landry’s work in Calgary, Daniels knew a showcase of their work would be a great follow-up to Masterworks.

“When I thought of Diane’s work in connection to Gary’s work, I knew it would be magic,” she said.

Staff have transformed the gallery space by removing walls to create an airy and open feeling for the two new exhibits.

Spearin’s “OO Paintings” collection – set to make its public debut at JNAAG – consists of large, brightly-coloured oil paintings each featuring a pair of circles. All of the paint was applied using paintbrushes trimmed to create different textures on the canvas.

Spearin said the new Sarnia gallery is an ideal space to showcase his large paintings because it has a modern feel with concrete floors and high ceilings.

“It’s been wonderful to watch the gallery move from inside the mall to this building and see its collection be showcased,” he added.

Gallery staff and volunteers make it possible for artists to showcase their work, noted Landry, who has travelled around the world with her art installations.

Her latest – Knight of Infinite Resignation – just wrapped up time in Paris before arriving in crates in Sarnia.

She has to travel with the exhibit because the sculpture – a mechanized series of windmills made out of water bottles – requires assembly at each location.

Each water bottle is filled with just the right amount of sand in order for the structure to rotate and create a whooshing noise for gallery goers.

“After the first show, I didn’t know it would travel because I didn’t know the response,” Landry said.

Deputy Lambton County Warden Ian Veen commended gallery staff and volunteers Thursday for their continuing work to attract and stage new exhibits.

“I encourage all of Lambton County to experience these exhibits up close and personal.”

Landry’s exhibit runs until July 24, while Spearin’s exhibit wraps up July 10.

Friday’s joint opening reception runs from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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