“I want to create a sense of wonder and magic that goes beyond everyday life,” artist Debra Barnhart said. “I do not want to create art that is just decorative. I want to inspire thought and conversation.”
The artist spends much of her time creating images that provoke thought, created with unusual techniques. Instead of canvases and brushes, she has combined photography with computer programs and filters.
Barnhart has a degree in painting from Montclair State University. She recently attended the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina where she started working in photography. The combination of photography and digital art became a fascination for her.
“Making art on a computer is not just a matter of pressing a button,” Barnhart said. “I tweak the digital file endlessly, playing around with filters and cropping until I reach what I call an ah-ha moment. Each digital painting has its own unique process, so there is not a set formula. Often, I don’t know what result I want to achieve until I see it on the computer screen.”
One body of work in this technique is a collection of African-themed images which proved very popular with collectors.
“But I wanted to do something edgier, something with a message,” Barnhart said. “By edgier, I mean thought-provoking. I am now working on a series of images about women.”
This pursuit of “edgier images” gives Barnhart ample opportunity to create Magical Realism as she tells stories with her work.
One of the women in her collection of images is her granddaughter. The image is titled “Seeing the Light.” The girl stands with her arms outstretched, light seeming to ignite from her hands.
“The pandemic and the lack of social contact has freaked me out a little,” Barnhart said. “I initially thought of this photo as an image of power. I had this work hanging outside my studio, and as I passed by it every day. As the pandemic wore on, I began to see it as an image not of Power but of Protection. The way she is holding her hands up now looks like she is protecting herself. In this pandemic, we have gone from focusing on power to focusing on protection.”
The pandemic also affects her planned work about women.
“I was looking at masks on Amazon. I was thinking about photographing women in masks. When you put on a mask, you put on a different persona,” she said. “The masks hide our faces and people can’t tell who you are. The decorated masks can create a whole different personality for the wearer.”
The pandemic has also allowed Barnhart time to collaborate with her friend Donn Green, an accomplished photographer himself. “He facilitates my creativity,” she said.
Barnhart is also one of the host of artists with a studio at Tannery Row, where she first came as a judge for one of their events.
Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. Email her at [email protected] mindspring.com.