WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS

by ROBIN HOWARD / photography by HOLGER OBENAUS

Huguenot Torte-Inspired Painting, Oil on canvas, 11″ x 14″

 

I AM PRODUCE. Produce is me,” Margaret De Carli Barry says. She is referring to her vibrant still life paintings and her reverence for fruits and vegetables on a quantum level. Let us consider her tomatoes.

Here, in the Deconstructed Salsa still life, the tomato is perhaps a day past ripe. Its green stem hat is slightly dry and bent, its skin so taught with juice that it shines. It has a slight flat spot, perhaps where it sat on a sunny window ledge, waiting. Now it lies alongside its partners, the onion, garlic, lime and peppers. In Barry’s painting, we don’t just see a tomato, we see its sun-warmed history—and anticipate its tasty future.

 

Apples, Plums and Golden Berries, Oil on canvas, 11″ x 14″

 

When still life is painted with this much heart, it allows the mind to leap forward to when the salsa is ready, the flavors blended, and it’s time to enjoy and share this small pleasure. “People say you eat with your eyes—I paint with my eyes,” Barry says. “I love produce. I like the vibrancy of the colors and how they play with each other. I love that we have a very long growing season here.” Talking with her, you will notice there are few things she does not love or is not grateful for, or is not excited about, which is both inspiring and contagious.

This refreshing world view comes from Barry’s dedication to practicing gratitude for the simple things—such as painting the perfect tomato. Though she will say she is lucky, her happiness is hard-won.

Born with a heart defect, Barry has had several near-death experiences. Her takeaway is that the most essential thing in life is relationships—both with God and with people. She is relentlessly optimistic and full of love for everyone—from her husband and daughter, whom she calls her biggest cheerleaders, to her gallery community and everyone on the periphery. She signs each painting “El Barry,” the “El” a prayer of gratitude to Elohim, who allows her to live and to paint. She also donates 10 percent of the proceeds from her artwork to local charities.

 

Sophie, Oil on canvas, 20″ x 16″

Marsh, Oil on canvas, 36″ x 24″

 

A pharmacist by training, Barry has been painting for nearly 20 years. “It’s how I relax,” she says. “If I have a cup of tea and a paintbrush in my hand, I’m happy.”

She is continually learning, seeking out the best artists she can find for instruction and advice. She also teaches. “It’s joyful for me to teach. I love seeing the expression on people’s faces when they paint something they like,” she says.

Barry paints from photographs given to her by friends and family. When she talks about these photos, she is overflowing with gratitude at the idea that people would think to share their pictures with her, for the abundance of beautiful pictures she has on backlog, and for the anticipation of all the peaceful tea-fueled painting sessions in her future.

Perspective Gallery in Mount Pleasant, a nonprofit gallery, represents her. The gallery is tucked into a corner by Five Loaves on Johnnie Dodds and represents more than 40 artists in the Mount Pleasant Artists Guild (of which Barry is the membership chair). Perspective has a sterling reputation for not only featuring high-quality work but for being warm and welcoming, even if you’re just browsing.

In addition to produce, Barry often paints marsh scenes, boats, landscapes and pets. She also paints cuisine, out of exuberance for the local restaurant scene. She regularly paints what she had for lunch or dinner at a downtown eatery, and sells it almost immediately to visitors (and locals) for whom the artwork is a reminder of their own memorable epicurean experience.

As the artist looks to the future, capturing more local cuisine is on her horizon. “When people go to restaurants, it’s usually a special occasion,” she says. In her mission to capture happy moments in her work, she wants to continue to paint more dishes from Charleston restaurants.

a moment; it captures gratitude, contentment and joy. “These years are the best part of my life, and I’m having a great time,” she says. That’s because when life hands Marg Barry lemons, she turns them into beautiful works of art.

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Robin Howard is a full-time freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhowardwrites.com.