For Margaret de Carli Barry, life is a series of wonderful moments, and if you move too fast, you’ll miss something. That’s the belief that has allowed her to grow her painting career from a passion into a full-time profession.
Barry has been an oil painter for about 20 years, starting from when she took lessons at a craft store when her daughter entered first grade. She quickly realized she got more out of the lessons when real artists taught them, and so started a journey of detail and delight.
“I’m not very fast,” she says unapologetically. “Painting for me is an expression of my soul. I like to savor it, to think about it, to play with the colors and the values. I look at it as putting a puzzle together to make it beautiful.”
Barry, who is represented by Perspective Gallery in Mount Pleasant, describes her style as impressionistic realism, combining the practice of brushwork with the precision of photography. Her subjects inevitably lean toward Charleston and the Lowcountry—buildings, marshes, magnolia gardens. “I find beauty in everything around here,” she says. “It’s hard not to be inspired. The city has different energy from the gardens, different energy from the marshes.”
The artist takes lots of photographs, the better to study them and create paintings from them. “It takes me so long to paint that by the time I get anywhere the sun is in a different place!” she says. “I always like to examine the photos closely: Where are the different shadows, the interplay of color.”
Take, for example, Charleston’s iconic St. Philip’s Church, photographed and painted every which way over the years. For Barry, the church is the stately constant in the painting, yet other details give dimension and cadence to the life around the church—lush trees in the bloom of summer, a vintage gaslight across the street, a fountain in the foreground with the church spire rising above the rooftops.
“I’m very detail oriented,” says Barry. “Sometimes the details tell the story. It’s the little things that most people would gloss over that I put in.”
Barry’s progression from hobbyist to full-time artist began when she and her husband, Tom, and daughter, Grace, moved to Mount Pleasant in 2007. “I was wondering where to put my paintings when I moved,” Barry says. “I like expressing myself, but there’s only so much self-expression you can fit on the wall!”
She came to appreciate Charleston landmarks and the local buyers who support the artists’ work. Those relationships have led to commissions as well as requests to capture scenes in paint that friends have seen in her photographs. She’s also given back, donating a portion of her proceeds to local organizations.
“People want scenes from Charleston. I’m easily pleased. I like the challenge of variety and seeing if I can master something,” Barry says. She also values the community of artists with whom she exhibits in the gallery, and from whom she’s constantly learning. Currently, she’s studying under Kyle Stuckey, a prominent Charleston oil painter. Before moving to South Carolina, she trained with Connecticut painter John Massimino.
“I’ve learned to admire what other artists do and add the flavors of different artists to my work, but not copy their work,” she says. “I’m honored if people can see Kyle’s influence in my painting, but it’s still very much me.”
In addition to learning from her peers and finding inspiration in her surroundings, a deep faith infuses Barry’s work. “Painting is not the end point. I want people to see who I am through the paintings,” she says. “I get a lot of inspiration from God. I pray before I paint. I want to express the beauty for what He made, how thankful I am that He gave me the gift. I ask permission. If I forget to ask permission, the painting does not come up for me. I’m getting better at remembering to ask.” *
Freelance writer and editor Connie Dufner is a proud Texan transplant living in Washington, D.C. She is a former editor for Modern Luxury Dallas and The Dallas Morning News who has been covering interiors journalism since 2001.