Hearing colors, painting stories


Artist: Mark Barry...

December 21, 1997|By Holly Selby

Hearing colors, painting stories; Artist: Mark Barry listens to 0) music as he works. Now, one of his pictures has been included in a book about jazz.

As he paints, Mark Barry listens to jazz. As the music soars and moans, the notes appear to him in a rainbow of hues. Sometimes the colors come in deep blues or greens, or in a range of yellows, or in a blaze of wild purples.

It's no wonder then, that in his work the good times often roll.

In his paintings, there are friends lingering after the meal's end, sipping wine and spinning tales. There are pianists and guitar players. There are long, elegant women leaning in close to their partners as they sway to music that you swear you can hear yourself.

"I can hear and feel the notes in my head like colors," Barry says. "The same emphasis a musician might make on a note I make on a color. We are all visual in the same way: A musician is telling a story with music. A lot of jazz is telling about love or relationships. And so are a lot of my paintings."

One of his creations appears in a newly published book, "Seeing Jazz" (Chronicle Books, 1997). Called "Dinner Time Tunes," Barry's painting shows family and friends gathered at a table. A man strums a guitar in the background, and a sax player straddles a bench. Children play on the floor nearby -- in fact, someone has put her doll into the bell of the sax.

"Seeing Jazz" includes photographs, lyrical essays and paintings, and was published as part of "America's Jazz Heritage," a 10-year collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and the Lila Wallace Readers Digest Fund that aims to introduce jazz to diverse audiences.

Barry's painting was chosen by its authors because it expresses "the extended-family, community feel of jazz: the universality of the music, its integral qualities and the whole idea of jazz being an inheritance that all Americans can share in," says Deborah Macanic, a project director at the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. (The book has inspired an exhibition of the same title, curated by Macanic, Marquette Folley Cooper and Janice McNeil, on view through Jan. 19 at the Smithsonian's International Gallery.)

For the past four years, Barry, who studied at Swain School of Design in Massachusetts and at the Johns Hopkins University, has designed the signature poster for the Telluride Jazz Festival. In one, Billie Holiday joyously belts out the blues. In another, called "Red Beans and Rice," Barry celebrates Louis Armstrong.

In Baltimore, his works are being collected by a diverse group of art lovers: LeRoy and Rebecca Hoffberger, attorney and founder of the American Visionary Art Museum, respectively; WJZ-TV anchor Denise Koch; and attorney Zelig Robinson and his wife, Linda, an interior designer. And his paintings hang in several public spaces, including the lobby of The Sun.

"I'm a collector of German expressionist art and I see a lot of expressionist attributes to Mark's work," says LeRoy Hoffberger. And when I look at it, I can almost hear the music."

The process of painting for Barry is different each time. "I try to be open. The more open you are to what's happening, the more surprises you get."

The influence of family -- his wife, Sandy Magsamen, owner of Glen Arm-based ceramics business Table Tiles and his 9-year-old daughter, Hannah -- is evident in his work, as well. One 1996 painting, titled "Paper plastic check under the basket," shows a mother at a grocery-store checkout counter. Her basket is piled high with food, but look below: The woman's most precious cargo is stealing a ride on the shopping cart's lower rungs. "It's not like I paint the people I know. I paint combinations of people; some exist and some don't," Barry says. "I just kind of take from life and run with it."

Consider the roadside historic marker. Usually it's something motorists catch in the corners of their eyes as they flash by, then think no more about it. Some people have a different sort of response: Their curiosity is awakened; they wonder what it might have said, what event, artifact, or edifice it was put there to draw attention to. But they keep going anyway.

Only a few people, the truly curious, stop their cars and go back. Their reward? They wind up knowing a lot more about the unique history of Maryland. They accumulate a lot of information from these black and silver signs about where we live and what happened here, all of which helps get them lionized at parties and cookouts.

Now you, too, can be popular and impress your friends. All you have to do is buy "The Complete Guide to Maryland Historic Markers" (Image Publishing, $24.95), a new book by Joe A. Swisher and Roger Miller. It tells you where all the markers are in every county and city in Maryland, and in Washington as well, which used to be part of Maryland.

There are a lot of these markers, too. Swisher estimates about 600 of the 700 erected since the practice of identifying the sites began are still there. This was in the 1930s.

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