Whitehorse artist turns off 'dark, winter blues' with new light sculpture

Emma Barr, a Whitehorse artist, has a bright personality and a singsong voice. She’s known locally for her vibrant landscape paintings splashed with almost every colour of the rainbow.

But behind her cheerful disposition is a story of depression that haunts many people, especially in the North.

Emma Barr

One of Barr’s landscape paintings called Mt. Itsi Queen of the North Canol. (submitted by Emma Barr)

“I know, I’m such a happy girl,” she said, laughing. “My close family and friends know my struggles and I just started talking about them publicly last year.”

It’s around that time that Barr completed her newest art invention: the Hap-E-Light, a light sculpture made from wood or metal frames and translucent paper, lacquered with colourful coats of paint.

The Hap-E-Light is lit with LED seasonal affective disorder lights, which are known to help fight the winter blues, that have a remote to control the colours.

“If you’re in a super blue mood, you might want to bring it up to green or orange. Green being very cool, calming, loving, fresh,” Barr explained. “Each colour affects people differently.

Barr said artists are especially prone to depression because they often isolate themselves because they feel misunderstood.

“They work with the right side of their brain a lot, so they’re not conforming to the status quo, to general society, the Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-five,” she said. 

“It’s unfortunately an invisible injury. If people see a broken arm, they get it. But if they see a broken mood, they don’t get it.”

‘I felt so crazy’

Barr said for her, depression was an illness in her life that “existed the whole time.”

“I knew I had a little bit of it in me, but then when I became a mother, I had some extreme physical traumas and physical changes happen to my body.

emma barr

One of Barr’s light sculptures that uses LED seasonal affective disorder lights. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

“And for some reason after about eight months of having my little dude, I fell into a really deep, dark one.” Barr said.

“I thought the world, my son, my husband were honestly better off without me because I felt so crazy and so misunderstood inside.”

When she went to see a doctor, he offered her prescription medication for her depression.

“The doctor said, ‘What do you have to lose?’

“I said, ‘Well, I guess depression and suicidal thoughts,’” recalled Barr.

From then on recovery came slowly, but surely, said Barr. She went to a meditation retreat, saw counsellors, joined a mental-health-awareness program and created a self-care program for herself.

Colour and light therapy

“So Hap-E-Light was born,” she said.

emma barr

Barr poses in front of her Hap-E-Light piece at her pop-up art exhibit running until Dec. 12. (submitted by Emma Barr)

This new, interior design, light sculpture was conceived back in 2003 and only completed recently, said Barr.

“I created this light sculpture to fill the corner of a room,” she said.

“It’s noninvasive, you don’t have to take a pill, don’t have to go to a class.

“I think it’s really exciting for all Northern places to embrace this idea. We can easily curve those dark, winter blues with light therapy and colour therapy,” she said.

Barr said she’s still far from being completely healed from depression.

“It’s still… pops its ugly head out,” she said.

Emma Barr

Barr says colour and light therapy are a noninvasive way to tackle mental illness. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

“I hope people read this story and shed a tear and reach out, get help or come out of the closet. It shouldn’t be stigmatized.”

Barr’s pop-up art exhibit is her largest yet. All of her art and light fixtures will be on display daily until Dec. 12 at the Lattin Building in Whitehorse.

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