ISSUE DATE: 10/14/99 October 1999

Barros' Art Belongs to the Senses

by Annette Hinkle

For the last 20 years or so, Nohra Barros has been a familiar face in one of Sag Harbor's most enduring legendary retail establishments. The wife of bookseller Canio Pavone, Barros is a passionate reader and lover of literature who has dedicated herself to the bookstores that bear her husband's name and are synonymous with Sag Harbor.

But Canio's bookshop has changed hands and the store on Long Wharf that Barros has managed for the last five years will close at month's end. Just the Main Street location will remain. Barros is excited about the change that will soon give her more time to follow another of her life's passions - painting.

This Saturday, a new show opens at the Nabi Gallery in Sag Harbor featuring Barros' latest still-life watercolor compositions as well as several of her magical prints shown previously at the gallery. "From the Hyacinth Garden" also features works by artists Younghee Choi Martin of New York City and Margaret Garrett of Shelter Island.

Barros' watercolors, even her still-lifes, have an evocative moodiness that hints at deeper inner meaning. Shadows play a big role in her work and speak of another realm.

"For me it is nothing conscious, it just filters," says Barros of her artwork. "Shadows are important to me. It represents something in my personality."

Barros grew up in Colombia and as a teenager, attended the School of Fine Arts there. "I always enjoyed reading, drawing, art and movies," she admits. "I loved the big MGM films, the American movies."

Books always played a big part in Barros life, even before she met her husband. "My father encouraged me to read," she says. "He let me charge all the books I wanted at a local bookshop." Even today, Barros turns to books before she picks up a brush. And although the story line is not likely to be introduced literally into Barros work, the mood of the writing often influences the feel of her art.

"Sometimes I get inspired by images that come to me in a book. It comes out in my subconscious," says Barros. "When I do a print, it might not have anything to do with what I read, but it might help. I tend to read for a while then I paint."

"I think I'd rather be able to read than paint if I had to choose," says Barros who names Garcia Marquez, Borges and Cortazar as some of her favorite authors. "When I was young I read a lot of non-fiction and biographies. Now I like novels. I'm really enjoying the classics. Then I alternate with mysteries. The old hard boiled ones."

"The mystery has to do with darkness. I was thinking about that recently. I thought, in mysteries there is always death," says Barros who finds the shadowy side of life intriguing - which she thinks may stem from her upbringing in South America. "The Spaniards have a thing about death." But Barros points out that in Latin America death is observed with uplifting celebrations for the living. "There is the Day of the Dead festival. Here, you talk about people passing away."

While Barros has been concentrating on watercolor still lifes as of late, her earlier work in prints tend to explore the unseen world.

"My prints are metaphysical in the sense they're about a reality that could be in our imagination and a refuge from this reality," she says. "Objects and events having their own life. That in general is what I'm interested in. The world of dreams."

"Art belongs to the senses. It's an important thing. Whether you create it or see it. You have to let yourself go."

And speaking of going, Barros and Pavone plan to do just that in the upcoming months. With no store to run and plenty of time, the couple is looking forward to seeing the world.

"In the beginning of the year we'll travel cross country," says Barros. "We want to see the Grand Canyon. Then we'll go to Italy for a few months and live in some little village."

Barros also plans to get to Ireland sometime in the not too distant future. It is a country with which she has longed to visit.

"I love the music," says Barros. "I'm reading more Irish authors, the music of the language. It all came together emotionally and I reacted very strongly."

"I don't plan too much ahead of time. I live in the present and plan little. Maybe it's fatalism in that we don't know what will come along and improvise."

"I like change. I provoke it," says Barros with a smile.

An opening reception for "From the Hyacinth Garden" will be held this Saturday, October 16 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Nabi Gallery, Route 114 in Sag Harbor, one block south of Bay Street. The show will run through November 21.


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