Category Archives: An Artist’s Life

Pearls from artists* # 296

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

“Offering,” 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.

Meaning in art isn’t the same as meaning in science.  The meaning of the second law of thermodynamics, so long as the words are understood, isn’t changed by who reads it,or when, or where.  The meaning of Huckleberry Finn is. 

Writing is a risky business.  No guarantees.  You have to take the chance.  I’m happy to take it.  I love taking it.  So my stuff gets misread, misunderstood, misinterpreted – so what?  If it’s the real stuff, it will survive almost any abuse other than being ignored, disappeared, not read.      

Ursula K. Le Guin in No Time to Spare:  Thinking About What Matters

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Ready to begin

Ready to begin

A:  I’m ready to begin a large – 38” x 58” – pastel-on-sandpaper painting, the sixth in my “Bolivianos” series.  I love beginnings because I am looking at something new on my easel and there are so many possibilities!

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* #295

Barbara at work, Photo: Marianne Barcellona

Barbara at work, Photo: Marianne Barcellona

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

Interviewer: Are there devices one can learn in improving one’s style?

Capote: Work is the only device I know of.  Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music.  If you are born knowing them, fine.  If not, learn them.  Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself.

Truman Capote in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews First Series, edited, and with an introduction by Malcolm Crowley

Comments are welcome!

Q: (Part II) Would you share your story of how creating art enabled you to heal after losing your husband on 9/11?

"The Champ," soft pastel on sandpaper, 35” x 28.5” framed. The first of my “Bolivianos”.

“The Champ,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 35” x 28.5” framed. The first of my “Bolivianos”.

A:  Continued from last Saturday’s post…

Because I use reference photos for my pastel paintings, the first challenge was to learn how to use Bryan’s 4 x 5 view camera. At that time I was not a photographer. Always Bryan had taken reference photos for me.

In July 2002 I enrolled in a view camera workshop at New York’s International Center of Photography. Much to my surprise I had already absorbed quite a lot from watching Bryan. After the initial workshop, I continued more formal studies of photography for a few years. In 2009, I am proud to say, I was invited to present a solo photography exhibition at a New York gallery!

In 2003 I resumed making my “Domestic Threats” series of pastel paintings, something that had seemed impossible after Bryan’s death. The first large pastel painting that I created using a reference photograph taken by me confirmed that my life’s work could continue. The title of that painting, “She Embraced It and Grew Stronger,” was autobiographical. “She” is me, and “it” meant continuing on without Bryan and living life for both of us.

Having had a long successful run, the “Domestic Threats” series finally ended in early 2007. Around that time I was feeling happier and had come to better terms with losing Bryan. While this is a tragedy I will never truly be at peace with, dealing with the loss became easier with time.

Then in 2007 I suddenly became blocked and did not know where to take my work next. I had never experienced creative block and for a full-time professional artist, this was a painful few months. Still, I continued to go to the studio every day and eventually, thanks to a confluence of favorable circumstances, the block ended.

My next pastel painting series was called, “Black Paintings.” I viewed the black background as literally, the very dark place that I was emerging from, exactly like the figures emerging in these paintings. The figures themselves were wildly colorful and full of life, but that black background is always there.

Still the work continues to evolve. Recently I began my third pastel painting series called, “Bolivianos,” based on a mask exhibition encountered in La Paz at the Museum of Ethnography and Folklore. Many people have proclaimed this to be my most bold, daring, and exciting pastel painting series yet. And I think they may be right! Continuing on the journey I began 30+ years ago, I am looking forward to creating many new, striking pastel paintings!

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 294

Barbara at work

Barbara at work

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

Interviewer:  Well, to begin – do you feel that you were born in a place and a time, and to a family all of which combined favorably to shape you for what you were to do?

Wilder:  Comparisons of one’s lot with others’ teaches us nothing and enfeebles the will.  Many born in an environment of poverty, disease, and stupidity, in an age of chaos, have put us in their debt.  By the standards of many people, and by my own, these dispositions were favorable – but what are our judgments in such matters?  Everyone is born with an array of handicaps – even Mozart, even Sophocles – and acquires new ones.  In a famous passage, Shakespeare ruefully complains that he was not endowed with another’s “scope”!  We are all equally distant from the sun, but we all have a share in it.  The most valuable thing I inherited was a temperament that does not revolt against Necessity and that is constantly renewed in Hope.  (I am alluding to Goethe’s great poem about the problem of each man’s “lot” – the Orphische Worte).         

Thornton Wilder in Writers at Work:  The Paris Review Interviews First Series, edited, and with an introduction by Malcolm Crowley

Comments are welcome!

Q: (Part I) Would you share your story of how creating art enabled you to heal after losing your husband on 9/11?

"She Embraced It and Grew Stronger," 2003, 70” x 50” framed, the first pastel painting I completed after Bryan was killed

“She Embraced It and Grew Stronger,” 2003, 70” x 50” framed, the first pastel painting I completed after Bryan was killed

A:  On June 16, 2001, I married Dr. Bryan Jack, my longtime companion and soulmate, during a very private ceremony in the garden of an historic Alexandria, Virginia residence. In attendance were a justice of the peace, me, and Bryan.  He and I were 48 years old and this was the first marriage for us both.  Sadly, we never celebrated an anniversary.  Exactly 87 days later my new husband was the victim of a terrorist attack.

On September 11, 2001, Bryan, a high-ranking federal government employee, a brilliant economist, and a budget analyst at the Pentagon, was en route to Monterey, CA to give his monthly guest lecture for an economics class at the Naval Postgraduate College. He boarded the American Airlines plane out of Dulles Airport that was high-jacked and crashed into the Pentagon, killing 189 people.

To this day I consider how easily I, too, could have been killed on 9/11, if I had just decided to travel with Bryan to California. Plus, the plane crashed directly into my Navy office on the fifth floor E-ring of the Pentagon. (I am a retired Navy Commander and worked at the Pentagon for many years). But for a twist of fate, we both would have died:  Bryan on the plane, me either beside Bryan or inside the building.

In September 2001 Bryan and I had been together for fourteen and a half years. Surprisingly, we were happier than we had ever been.  At a time when other couples we knew were settling into a certain boredom and routine, our life together was growing richer and more interesting.  So losing Bryan – especially then – was heart-breaking, cruel, and devastating beyond comprehension.  It was so unfair.  I was numb and in shock.

The next six months passed by in a blur. But I had made a decision and pledged that I would not let the 9/11 attackers claim me as one more victim.  My life had been spared for a reason so I began to pick up the pieces and worked to make every day count.  Even many years later, wasting time still feels like a crime.

The following summer I was ready to – I HAD to – get back to work in my studio. I knew exactly what I must do.  More than ever before, learning and painting would become the avenues to my well-being.

Continued next week…

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 293

Studio with works in progress

Studio with works in progress

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

Works of art specify no immediate action or limited use.  They are like gateways, where the visitor can enter the space of the painter, or the time of the poet, to experience whatever rich domain the artist has fashioned.  But the visitor must come prepared:  if he brings a vacant mind or  deficient sensibility, he will see nothing.  Adherent meaning is therefore largely a matter of conventional shared experience, which it is the artist’s privilege to rearrange and enrich under certain limitations.

George Kubler in The Shape of Time:  Remarks on the History of Things

Comments are welcome! 

Q: As a full-time artist what are you thankful for?

The list

The list

A:  Recently I came across one of my Facebook posts from approximately five years ago.  Everything on the list above still rings true, perhaps now even moreso.

Comments are welcome!

Travel photo of the month*

Deep South, Untitled (Bridge on Tallahatchie) by Sally Mann

Deep South, Untitled (Bridge on Tallahatchie) by Sally Mann

From “Sally Mann:  A Thousand Crossings” at the National Gallery of Art

From “Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings” at the National Gallery of Art

*Favorite travel photographs that have not yet appeared in this blog.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 289

“Danzante,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38” x 58”, in progress

“Danzante,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38” x 58”, in progress

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

I do not think it the business of a poet to become a guru.  It is his business to write poetry, and to do that he must remain open and vulnerable.  We grow through relationships of every kind, but most of all through a relationship that takes the whole person.  And it would be pompous and artificial to make an arbitrary decision to shut the door.

The problem is to keep a balance, not to fall to pieces.  In keeping her balance in her last years Louise Bogan stopped writing poems, or nearly.  It was partly, I feel sure, that the detachment demanded of the critic (and especially his absorption in analyzing the work of others) is diametrically opposed to the kind of detachment demanded of the poet in relationship to his own work.  We are permitted to become detached only after the shock of an experience has been taken in, allowed to “happen” in the deepest sense.  Detachment comes with examining the experience by means of writing the poem.      

May Sarton in Journal of a Solitude: The intimate diary of a year in the life of a creative woman

Comments are welcome!