Domestic Threats

"He Just Stood There Grinning," soft pastel on sandpaper, " 58" x 38"

“He Just Stood There Grinning,” soft pastel on sandpaper, ” 58″ x 38″

The DOMESTIC THREATS series of pastel-on-sandpaper paintings uses Mexican and Guatemalan folk art—masks, carved wooden animals, papier mâché figures, and toys—in a lively blend of reality and fantasy. On trips to central Mexico I spend much of my time in the local mask shops, markets, and bazaars searching for the figures that will later populate my paintings. I enjoy the fact that I take objects with a unique Mexican or Guatemalan past—most have been used in various religious festivals—and give them a second life, so to speak, in New York in the present. When I return home, I read prodigiously and find out as much about them as I can. I use these objects not only as surrogates for human actors, but as potent symbols: an amalgam of child¬hood memories, half-forgotten dreams, and images encountered in literature, pre-columbian art, and cinema (especially German silent films and movies by Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles). This work has been evolving for more than a decade. The imagery is autobiographical and very personal, but has universal associations.

All of the pastel paintings use my West Village apartment or a 72-year-old Sears house in Virginia as a backdrop. These are places where I live so the realities of my everyday surroundings are an essential part of the work. Director-style, I select and arrange a group of folk art figures in a room in my apartment. I light the scene using two or more tungsten studio lights to create dramatic, mysterious and unex¬plainable shadows. The setup is typically left in place for several weeks. During that time, I work out placement, lighting, design, and, most importantly, a narrative about the interaction that is occurring between the “actors.” (The narrative is often hinted at in the painting’s title).

When everything is ready, I shoot two color negatives with a 4″×5″ view camera. Using a 24” x 20” photo¬graph for refer¬ence, I create a pastel painting of 58″×38″ in size (normally a three to four month process). I also make smaller works (which also involve several months), but prefer the greater challenge of working in large format. Blending with my fingers, I painstakingly apply dozens of layers of soft pastel onto the acid-free sandpaper. My self-invented technique achieves rich textures and vibrant colors. I believe I am pushing pastel to its limits, using it in ways that no one else has done.

Please see http://www.barbararachko.com for images.

  1. Your work is a compelling and mysterious story that unfolds over time. Titles give us a place to begin but there is so much for the mind to wind around. Thank you for sharing some of your life story and process.

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