As the child of an artist father (Philip Barlow, 1933-2018), I grew up surrounded by paintings (his and others) and his studio was filled with art books. My mother is a passionate gardener and our home was enveloped by her garden with its tiny pond, trees, vines, flowering shrubs, paths and so many, many flowers. Thus, my first and greatest influences were my parents — and their love for the beauty of paint and blossom infuses my work to this day.
Inspired by the portraiture tradition, but working within the still life genre, I use objects, rather than faces or bodies, to explore the poetry of our lives. I call this body of work “portraits in absentia.” These paintings illuminate the inner essences of my subjects, of families, of relationships. I paint my subjects’ most cherished objects rather than their faces, to bring a fresh vantage point from which to consider identity.
To me, a beloved personal object retains something of the essence of the person who chose it. With the perspective of a cultural anthropologist, I view the things with which we surround ourselves as both containing and revealing the shape of our lives.
I select objects that symbolize these complex and perhaps contradictory aspects of my subjects’ inner selves and capture them in the compositional arrangement of their intimate objects. Using color, light and shadow, I amplify these seemingly mundane things into a work of art that reveals truths about their lives and personal journeys.
Since my husband and I moved to the Monterey Peninsula three years ago, a new thread has emerged in my work. In this new series, rather than painting portraits using a person’s belongings, I am creating abstracted portraits of gardens. I visit a garden over time, collecting armloads of blossoms, vines, leaves and branches. Later, in my studio, I find a composition that celebrates the essence of that garden (or gardener) and the bittersweet impermanence of life.
I believe that the work of my late father Philip Barlow and my heroes Vermeer, Thiebaud, Rothko, and O’Keeffe — as well as contemporary painters David Ligare and Martha Alf and poets Mary Oliver and John O’Donohue — inform my work profoundly and the lessons they taught me can be found as echoes in each brushstroke of my paintings.