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ARTIST DEALT IN METAPHORS

Hundreds of collectors own pieces he painted by "divine guidance," a feeling that he couldn't quite explain.

Jack Barrett's wife, Louise, helped him move from bed to the small, paint-splattered art studio on the second floor of his home Wednesday.

She flipped his 36- by 48-inch canvas upside down so he could reach the top from his chair. While hooked to an oxygen tank, he painted a bloom of pastel yellows, greens and blues that crawled up from levels of darker shades and thick textures below.

Through the piece, Mr. Barrett painted a series of ladders ascending to the light.

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Hundreds of art collectors own his pieces.

The paintings are unmistakably Jack Barrett. Bold colors, striking images. Jesters, clowns, birds - whimsical objects with meaning beneath.

"If you looked at them closely, they were about a lot of inward soul searching," said Eric Lang Peterson, an art appraiser in St. Petersburg. "A lot of painters have done harlequins and clowns, but his were metaphors for goodness and things he felt strongly about."

Mr. Barrett was born in Pittsburgh, where a modern-thinking aunt exposed him to art. But before pursuing art seriously, he detoured into the Marines. He was shot on a battlefield in Korea, and his lung collapsed. He survived an emergency operation with no medication.

Back home, he turned to art. He worked for commercial studios in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York. He was an art teacher, a comic strip artist and a fine china designer.

In 1970, Mr. Barrett came to the St. Petersburg Times, where he worked for 20 years doing newspaper illustrations. He loved the job, but as computer design crept into the industry, he balked.

"He liked to get his hands dirty," said Doug Land, a local artist. "We'd go have a burger at El Cap, and you'd see the charcoal under his nails and on his pants."

In 1990, it was time to move on.

"I was slowly discovering that fine art is where I belong," he told the St. Petersburg Times in December.

He'd bring sketchbooks everywhere. He'd draw people in the mall food court, sometimes getting so absorbed in his work that he didn't notice people gathering to watch. He chose not to get a driver's license, so when riding the bus, he'd draw people sitting at stops.

He'd stay in the studio for hours, scraping and starting again, always aiming for better. He painted by what he called "divine guidance," a feeling that he couldn't quite explain.

He did a black-and-white series, and a group of smaller landscapes. But inevitably, he'd return to color and human forms. His passion was to paint souls, not inanimate objects.

As he ailed with severe pulmonary hypertension, he continued to work. His mind stayed on point as his body declined. On bad days, he'd work on small canvases from bed. On better days, he'd paint large.

He wanted to live long enough to attend an art show in his honor called "A Soul's Journey," scheduled for October. But on Sunday night, he died. He was 78.

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His wife plans to call his last painting, the one with the ladders, Highway to Heaven.

As her husband painted, she pleaded with him to sign it.

He refused.

It wasn't finished, he said.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

BIOGRAPHY

Jack Barrett

Born: Nov. 5, 1929.

Died: Feb. 3, 2008.

Survivors: wife, Louise Barrett; daughter: Stephanie Klima; brother, William Barrett; grandchildren, Michelle and Jesse Klima.

Service: Visitation 6-8 p.m. Thursday at Anderson-McQueen, 2201 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St. Petersburg. Funeral at 11 a.m. Friday at First Unity Church, 460 46th Ave. N. Burial at Memorial Park Cemetery.

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