Monthly Archives: September 2012

Q: Can you speak more about how your studio practice has evolved over the years?

At White Sands, NM; photo by Donna Tang

At White Sands, NM; photo by Donna Tang

A:  I have spoken at length about how my work and studio practice have evolved since the mid-80s.  Please see my interview with Daniel Rothbart at http://www.arterynyc.com/2011/12/a-conversation-with-barbara-rachko/ or click the Blogroll link at right.

Pearls from artists* # 7

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

It’s painful to think of the number of paintings that don’t work, not only my own, but also what I see in galleries and museums.  Such failures may be adequately painted but they don’t sing.  They left the studio but they aren’t happy about it.  It’s simple and inevitable:  there’s work we artists do that doesn’t come together.  And for each of us there’s only one solution to this problem.  You just continue to make paintings, and you make more paintings, and then for no particular reason all of a sudden you start to click and all the pieces that you’ve been working with, the direction you’ve been perceiving “as if through a glass darkly” is now open and clear, in all its glory.  We paint and everything falls into place.  That expression of “being in the zone” expresses the experience perfectly.  There is a momentum you’ve built up which was essential to this work.  If you had been waiting for inspiration, waiting for that flow to begin, it would have caught you too flat-footed to notice.  It arrived out of the readiness that all the previous work created in you.  Regardless of how sluggish that process may have seemed at the time, things were lining up in preparation, ideas were formulating.

Ian Roberts, Creative Authenticity: 16 Principles to Deepen Your Artistic Vision

Comments are welcome.

Q: What are you working on now?

Pastel painting in progress

Pastel painting in progress

A:  Two large pastel paintings are in progress.  Here is one of them, untitled at this stage.   I seem to be moving in a new direction in that the figures are becoming larger than life size. 

Comments are welcome.

Pearls from artists* # 6

"Quartet," soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38" image, 70" x 50" framed

“Quartet,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″ image, 70″ x 50″ framed

*  an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

After we have responded to a work of art, we leave it, carrying in our consciousness something which we didn’t have before.  This something  amounts to more than our memory of the incident represented, and also more than our memory of the shapes and colours and spaces which the artist used and arranged.  What we take away with us – on the most profound level – is the memory of the artist’s way of looking at the world.  The representation of a recognizable incident (an incident here can simply mean a tree or a head) offers us the chance of relating the artist’s way of looking to our own.  The forms he uses are the means by which he expresses his way of looking.  The truth of this is confirmed by the fact that we can often recall the experience of a work, having forgotten both its precise subject and its precise formal arrangement.

Yet why should an artist’s way of looking at the world have any meaning for us?  Because, I believe, it increases our awareness of our own potentiality.  Not of course our awareness of our potentiality as artists ourselves.  But a way of looking at the world implies a certain relationship with the world, and every relationship implies action.  The kind of actions implied vary a great deal.  A classical Greek sculpture increases our awareness of our own potential physical dignity; a Rembrandt of our potential moral courage; a Matisse of our potential sensual awareness.  Yet each of these examples is too personal and too narrow to contain the whole truth of the matter.  A work can, to some extent, increase an awareness of different potentialities in different people.  The important point is that a valid work of art promises in some way or another the possibility of an increase, an improvement.  Nor need the work be optimistic to achieve this; indeed, its subject may be tragic.  For it is not the subject matter that makes the promise, it is the artist’s way of viewing his subject.  Goya’s way of looking at a massacre amounts to the contention that we ought to be able to do without massacres.         

John Berger, Selected Essays

Comments are welcome.

Q: You seem very disciplined. Do you ever have a day when you just can’t get excited about working?

Studio wall with self-portrait

Studio wall with self-portrait

A:  That happens occassionaly, but I still go to the studio to work.  You know the expression, “99% of life is just showing up”?  Well, of course I have to show up at my studio to accomplish anything so I keep fairly regular studio hours – 7 to 8 hours a day, 4 or 5 days a week.  In the evening I spend another hour or two answering email, sending out applications, organizing jpegs, etc.  When you are an artist there is always work to do and for some of it, no one else can do it.  That’s  because no one else knows the work from the inside the way the maker does.  I like what Twyla Tharp says in her book, “The Creative Habit.”  In order to progress an artist needs good work habits that become a daily routine.  And Chuck Close likes to say, “Inspiration is for amateurs,” meaning a professional works whether she’s in the mood or not.  I completely agree so I keep working and slowly moving ahead. 

As Tchaikovsky wrote in a letter to a friend:

We must always work, and a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.  If we wait for the mood, without endeavoring to meet it halfway, we easily become indolent and apathetic.  We must be patient, and believe that inspiration will come to those who can master their disinclination.  A few days ago I told you I was working every day without any real inspiration.  Had I given way to my disinclination, undoubtedly I should have drifted into a long period of idleness.  But my patience and faith did not fail me, and today I felt that inexplicable glow of inspiration of which I told you; thanks to which I know beforehand that whatever I write today will have power to make an impression, and to touch the hearts of those who hear it.

Quoted in Eric Maisel’s A Life in the Arts. 

Comments are welcome.        

Pearls from artists* # 5

Arizona storm

Arizona storm

*  an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Flying over the desert yesterday, I found myself lifted out of my preoccupations by noticing suddenly that everything was curved.  Seen whole from the air, circumscribed by its global horizon, the earth confronted me bluntly as a context all its own, echoing that grand sweep.  I had the startling impression that I was looking at something intelligent.  Every delicate pulsation of color was met, matched, challenged, repulsed, embraced by another, none out of proportion, each at its own unique and proper part of the whole.  The straight lines with which human beings have marked the land  are impositions of a different intelligence, abstract in this area of the natural.  Looking down at these facts, I began to see my life as somewhere between these two orders of the natural and the abstract, belonging entirely neither to one nor to the other.

In my work as an artist I m accustomed to sustaining such tensions:  A familiar position between my senses, which are natural, and my intuition of an order they both mask and illuminate.  When I draw a straight line or conceive of an arrangement of tangible elements all my own, I inevitably impose my own order on matter.  I actualize this order, rendering it accessible to my senses.  It is not so accessible until actualized.

An eye for this order is crucial for an artist.  I notice that as I live from day to day, observing and feeling what goes on both inside and outside myself, certain aspects of what is happening adhere to me, as if magnetized by a center of psychic gravity.  I have learned to trust this center, to rely on its acuity and to go along with its choices although the center itself remains mysterious to me.  I sometimes feel as if I recognize my own experience.  It is a feeling akin to that of unexpectedly meeting a friend in a strange place, of being at once startled and satisfied – startled to find outside myself what feels native to me, satisfied to be so met.  It is exhilarating.

I have found that this process of selection, over which I have virtually no control, isolates those aspects of my experience that are most essential to me in my work because they echo my own attunement to what life presents me.  It is as if there are external equivalents for truths which I already in some mysterious way know.  In order to catch these equivalents, I have to stay “turned on” all the time, to keep my receptivity to what is around me totally open.  Preconception is fatal to this process.  Vulnerability is implicit in it; pain, inevitable.

Anne Truitt, Daybook: The Journal of an Artist 

Comments are welcome.     

Q: Do you have any rituals or a spiritual practice that you do before beginning your work in the studio?

Studio entrance

Studio entrance

A:  When I arrive at the studio in the morning it’s rare for me to immediately start working.  Usually I read  something art-related – magazines like Art in America, ARTnews, Tribal Arts, or exhibition catalogues from shows I’ve seen, books on art, on creativity, etc.  At the moment I’m re-reading The Gift, by Lewis Hyde.  As usual I am struggling to understand aspects of the art business and figure out what I need to do next to get my work seen by a wider audience.  The Gift reminds why I decided to make art in the first place.   It helps reconnect with forgotten parts of myself and is a much-needed  reminder of what I love about being an artist, especially in light of the business stuff that is becoming so complex and demanding of attention now.  Balancing the creative and business aspects of being an artist is a continual struggle.  Both are so important.  An artist needs an appreciative audience – very few artists devote their lives to art-making so that the work will remain in a closet – but I also believe this (from a note hand-written years ago and tacked to the studio wall):  “Just make the work.  None of the rest matters.”

Comments are welcome.

Pearls from artists* # 4

At work on "False Friends"; photo by Diana Feit

At work on “False Friends”; photo by Diana Feit

*  an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Given a small kernel of reality and any measure of optimism, nebulous expectations whisper to you that the work will soar, that it will become easy, that it will make itself. And verily, now and then the sky opens and the work does make itself.  Unreal expectations are easy to come by, both from emotional needs and from the hope or memory of periods of wonder.  Unfortunately, expectations based on illusion lead almost always to disillusionment.

Conversely,  expectations based on the work itself are the most useful tool the artist possesses.  What you need to know about the next piece is contained in the last piece.  The place to learn about your materials is in the last use of your materials.  The place to learn about your execution is in your execution.  The best information about what you love is in your last contact with what you love.  Put simply, your work is your guide:  a complete, comprehensive, limitless reference book on your work.  There is no other  such book, and it is yours alone.  It functions this way for no one else.  Your fingerprints are all over your work, and you alone know how you got there.  Your work tells you about your working methods, your discipline, your strengths and weaknesses, your habitual gestures, your willingness to embrace.

The lessons you are meant to learn are in your work.  To see them, you need only look at the work clearly – without judgment, without need or fear, without wishes or hopes.  Without emotional expectations.  Ask your work what it needs, not what you need.  Then set aside your fears and listen, the way a good parent listens to a child.  

David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear

Comments are welcome.

Q: Why the chromogenic process above all others?

Mamiya 6 camera

Mamiya 6 camera

A:  First, the cameras that I inherited from Bryan in 2001 were all pre-digital film cameras.  Second, I can make chromogenic prints myself, which cuts down on their production cost.  Third, I love working with my hands and enjoy the process of making prints in a darkroom.  Fourth, I make photographs on days that I don’t go to the studio.  It’s a way to take a day off and still make art, a very productive use of my time.  At the end of a darkroom session I have a new edition of 5 chromogenic prints, ready to spot and frame.

Comments are welcome.