Monthly Archives: February 2017

Q: Your path into the arts was less than conventional. For many years you were an active duty Naval officer before you retired as a Commander. Oh, and not forgetting the pilot’s licenses you hold! Tell us more about yourself and why you decided to continue your journey into the arts.

Barbara's eBook cover

Barbara’s eBook cover

A:  When I was 25 I earned my private pilot’s license and spent the next two years amassing other licenses and ratings, culminating in a Boeing-727 flight engineer’s certificate. Two years later I joined the Navy. As an accomplished civilian pilot with thousands of flight hours, I expected to fly jets. However, there were few women Navy pilots at the time and they were restricted to training male pilots. There were no women pilots on aircraft carriers and there were no female Blue Angels (the latter is still true).    

So in the mid-1980s I was in my early 30s, a lieutenant on active duty in the Navy, working a soul-crushing job as a computer analyst on the midnight shift in a Pentagon basement.  It was literally and figuratively the lowest point of my life.  Remembering the joyful Saturdays of my youth when I had taken art classes with a local New Jersey painter, I enrolled in a drawing class at the Art League School in Alexandria, Virginia.  Initially I wasn’t very good, but it was wonderful to be around other women  and a world away from the “warrior mentality” of the Pentagon.  And, I was having fun!  Soon I enrolled in more classes and became a very motivated full-time art student who worked nights at the Pentagon. As I studied and improved my skills, I discovered my preferred medium – soft pastel on sandpaper.  

Although I knew I had found my calling, for more than a year I agonized over whether or not to leave the financial security of the Navy.  Once I did decide, there was a long delay.  The Navy was experiencing a manpower shortage so Congress had enacted a stop-loss order, which prevented officers from resigning. I could only do what was allowed under the order.  I submitted my resignation effective exactly one year later:  on September 30, 1989.  With Bryan’s (my late husband’s) support,  I left the Navy.  

I designate October 1, 1989 as the day I became a professional artist. Fortunately, I have never again needed a day job. However, I remained in the Navy Reserve for the next 14 years, working primarily at the Pentagon for two days every month and two weeks each year. I commuted to Washington, DC after I moved to Manhattan in 1997.  Finally on November 1, 2003, I officially retired as a Navy Commander.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 236

"Some Things We Regret," soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

“Some Things We Regret,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″

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

There are so many things that art can’t do.  It can’t bring the dead back to life, it can’t mend arguments between friends, or cure AIDS, or halt the pace of climate change.  All the same, it does have some extraordinary functions, some odd negotiating ability between people, including people who never meet and yet who infiltrate and enrich each other’s lives, it does have a capacity to create intimacy; it does have a way of healing wounds, and better yet of making it apparent that not all wounds need healng and not all scars are ugly.

Olivia Laing in The Lonely City:  Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

Comments are welcome!   

Q: One can’t help but make connections between the devastating effects of 9/11 and your series, “Domestic Threats.” Would they be right?

“No Cure for Insomnia,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″

A:  Well, not exactly, since I began this work in 1991.  

All of the paintings in this series are set in places where I reside or used to live, either a Virginia house or two New York apartments, i.e., my personal domestic environments. Each painting typically contains a conflict of some sort, at least one figure that is being menaced or threatened by a group of figures.  For example, in “No Cure for Insomnia (above) the threatened figure is me.  So it was an easy decision to name the series “Domestic Threats.”  My idea was that these paintings were psychological dramas: surrealistic, metaphoric depictions of human fears, anxieties, inner conflicts, demons, etc.  

But depending on what is/was going on in the country at a particular moment, people make other associations. Since my husband was killed on 9/11, people think the title, “Domestic Threats,” was prescient and ascribed all kinds of domestic terrorism associations to the work. For a time viewers thought I was hinting at scenes of domestic violence, but that also is not what I intended.  The title “Domestic Threats” has proven to be fraught with associations that I never considered.

However, I am fine with any interpretations that are elicited because it means my paintings are getting a response.  That’s important.  I have been working, studying, and thinking about art for thirty years and hopefully, that’s reflected in the work I create.  It’s natural that it takes time for people to ponder all the complexities in a work of art.

Maybe this comment by the late Gerrit Henry, a New York critic, is more true now than when he wrote it sixteen years ago:  “What we bring to a Rachko, in other words, we get back, bountifully.”

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 235

"Effigy," soft pastel on sandpaper, 26" x 20"

“Effigy,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26″ x 20″

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

People make things – make art or things that are akin to art – as a way of expressing their need for contact, or their fear of it; people make objects as a way of coming to terms with shame, with grief.  People make objects to strip themselves down, to survey their scars, and people make objects to resist oppression, to create a space in which they can move freely.  Art doesn’t have to have a reparative function, any more than it has a duty to be beautiful or moral.

Olivia Laing in The Lonely City:  Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

Comments are welcome!   

  

Start/Finish of “Colloquium”, soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″

Beginning

Beginning

Finished and unsigned

Finished and unsigned

Pearls from artists* # 234

"The Ancestors," soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

“The Ancestors,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″

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

Be a good  steward to your gifts.  This is the first sentence on a list I keep tacked to the bulletin board in my study, an impeccable set of instructions left by poet Jane Kenyon.

Protect your time.

Feed your inner life.

Avoid too much noise.

Read good books, have good sentences in your ears.

Be by yourself as often as you can.

Walk.

Take the phone off the hook

Work regular hours.

Dani Shapiro in Still Writing:  The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life 

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I am working on a large 38″ x 58″ pastel painting  that depicts figures found years ago in Oaxaca and Mexico City.  This painting doesn’t have a title yet.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 233

"Alone Together," soft pastel on sandpaper, 20" x 26"

“Alone Together,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 20″ x 26″

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

These words are true for most artists, not only writers.

There is the gift, of course, which is inseparable from – though not the same as – a need, a hunger for expression.  It is possible to have the gift without the need.  It is possible to have the need without the gift.  The former can lead to a happy and contented life.  I have seen promising young writers discard their gift, shrugging it off like a wrap on a warm summer evening.  They don’t care.  They don’t want or need it.  The other, however, is a painful situation:  the hunger for self-expression without the gift – that ineffable thing you can’t teach, or buy, or will into being.  This story often ends in resentment and unfulfillment.  Then there is endurability – Ted Solotaroff’s word –  the ability to withstand the years in the cold, the solitary life, the affronts and indignities, the painful rejections that never end.  The gift and the hunger are nothing without that endurability.  But up there with the gift, the hunger, and endurance is another trait, without which the writer’s life can’t possibly work.

The writing life is full of risk.  There is the creative risk – the willingness to fall flat on our face again and again – but there is also practical risk.  As in, it may not work out.   We don’t get brownie points for trying really hard.  When we set our hopes on this life, we are staking our future on the contents of our own minds.  On our ability to create and continue to create.  We have nothing but this.  No 401(k), no pension plan, often no IRA, no plans – God knows – for retirement.  We have to accept living with profound uncertainty.

 Dani Shapiro in Still Writing:  The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life 

Comments are welcome!