Barlett was born in Long Beach, CA, and studied at Mills College in Oakland, CA, and Yale School of Art in New Haven, CT. While at Yale she became acquainted with many notable modern artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Elizabeth Murray, and Richard Serra, all of whom exposed her to new art styles and aided in her development as an artist. She is best known for her use of every day, recognizable objects as central iconography to her abstract works. Much of her work focuses on the play between figural and abstract imagery, pushing the boundary between the two, and questioning whether that boundary exists at all. Using small enameled steel plates, she created large scale compositions which can be seen at places such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.