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7.5.04

Painting in the Dark (and Everything Else)

Mark Barry, Lites Out, watercolor, 2004
Mark Barry © Lites Out, watercolor, 2004
This past Sunday around 11 pm, due to a fierce storm, we lost our power and didn't get it back until Tuesday afternoon.

There is a lot to be grateful for when the electricity goes out, the best reason being that it's quiet. The phones were out, the computers out, the TV out also. Oops, we have to talk to each other: what was her name again? And reading in bed by flashlight, that brought back some memories. My daughter really enjoyed herself, a little Frontier Life lite.

The downside in our case was no hot water. Actually since our source of water is a well, we had no water at all, but I truly missed a hot shower; and those around me missed me not showering too.

Habits are not easily broken either. Whenever I went into a darkened room or closet, my first instinct was still to hit the light switch. Try to chase the chickens out of the flower bed with a spray from the garden hose: no dice.

This all comes around to painting, of course. How did so much art get made in the past with so little light? Even on a clear day, there may be five or six hours of good light to work by. In my case the days were overcast, and it was a struggle to see what I was putting down. I'm now going back and tweaking the glaze I painted on some pottery and tightening up some watercolors. Very little painting got done, but several canvases were stretched.

I'm sure that candles and oil lamps were a primary source of after-hours light for pre-electric artists, but still it's a very different way seeing the world. It's definitely a much simpler lifestyle.

Mark Barry (www.markbarryportfolio.com) is an artist working in Baltimore.

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