In Watermelon Sugar

Racing-striped glossy salamanders beneath a rotten log. Streams of golden sparks rising from behind a rood screen of pitchy pine needles. A Jazz Age strand of sterling silver and turquoise in a Ziplock bag full of plastic party beads. The trunk of the car in Repo Man. A wet cardboard box opening to reveal a glowing spiky crystal, and a rainbow spray of hothouse flowers illuminating a black puddle of muck. We look for the fissures where the light emerges.

How can we collect a box of treasures from the detritus that daily life offers? How can we hold onto the scraps of light that we find? Sometimes the precious stones are easy to sort: a visit to the ocean reveals a waving stand of jewel-toned seaweed beneath each rising wave. A pitch-black butterfly with sapphire and citrine polka dots edging his Satanic wings emerges from the bee balm. The sun shines and the raindrops sparkle in it; your favorite number appears on the digital clock. But sometimes treasures are thin on the ground: your things are broken; your friend is gone; your house is dark and cold; your mother is sick and she's not answering the phone.

In my paintings, I'm searching for a method to coax light from the cracks between despair and beauty. The paintings are meant to glow with a warm blob of interrupted, flickering light—I use a spray-applied imprimatura of warm, sweet colors to form a speckled field, over which the composition is constructed. But they're also meant to absorb light—the initial acrylic paint that I use is modified with marble dust, to take away any surface sheen while simultaneously imparting a little bit of sparkle. The oil paint over the top provides a richer shimmer and depth. The darks I use are very dark, and the churning compositions reflect the implicit violence or instability of the narratives.

Looking for diamonds in the dirt is a process that is buoyant with promise and freighted by the dread of loss.

Hilary Irons is a Maine-based painter and curator. She is Gallery and Exhibitions Director at the University of New England, and is represented by Dowling Walsh Gallery. She received an MFA from the Yale School of Art in 2008 and a BFA from Parsons School of Design in 2002, and has attended residencies at the Albers Foundation, Skowhegan, MacDowell, the American Academy in Rome, the Pace House, Hewnoaks, the Canterbury Shaker Village, and the Surf Point Foundation. She has written for Boston Art Review, The Chart, Art New England, Maine Magazine, and other publications.