Category Archives: Black Paintings

My blog turns 6 years old tomorrow! Here is the very first post from July 15, 2012. Q: What does it take to be an artist, especially one living and working in New York?

Barbara's Studio

Barbara’s Studio with works in progress.

A:  The three Big P’s – Patience, Persistence, and Passion.  Without all three you will not have the stamina to work tirelessly for very little external reward.  You can expect help from no one. 

There are so many obstacles to art-making and countless reasons to just give up.  When you really think about it, it’s amazing that great art gets made at all.  So why do we do it?  Above all it’s about making our time on earth matter, about devotion to our innate gifts and love of our hard-fought creative process. 

And, my God, it even gets harder as we get older!  So what do we do?  We dig in that much deeper.  It’s a most noble and sacred calling – you know when you have it – and that’s what separates those of us who are in it for the long haul from the wimps, fakers, and hangers-on.  I say to my fellow artists who continue to work despite the endless challenges, we are all true heroes! 

__________

Lucky me to still be in the same studio!  However, when you visit now, you see more tables full of pastels, more postcards on the walls, newer pastel paintings, etc.  More importantly, what I wrote six years ago still rings true! 

Comments are welcome!     

Q: You have spoken about your pastel technique, which involves layering pigments on top of each other, up to 25 to 30 layers. When you do this are you putting the same colors on top of each other?

 

An early version of "Oracle," 26" x 20"

An early version of “Oracle,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26″ x 20″

Finished

Finished

A:  I do layer Rembrandt black soft pastels on top of each other to achieve the dark backgrounds in my “Black Paintings” and “Bolivianos” series.  Black Rembrandts are the pastels I use most so I order them several dozen at a time.  The 400 or 500 grit sandpaper requires at least four layers of pastel just to achieve even coverage.  Over the next few months I add many more layers of black pastel to achieve the final rich look.

The figures and shapes in each pastel painting are a different  story.  Were you to x-ray them, you’d see many different colors underneath the final one.  Sometimes subsequent colors are closely related to earlier ones.  With each additional layer, I correct, refine, and strengthen my drawing so the objects depicted become more solid and/or three-dimensional.

In addition to the thousands of pastels I have to choose from, I mix and blend new colors directly on the sandpaper.  As I proceed, I am searching for the ‘best’ colors, those that make the overall painting more resonant, more alive, and more exciting to look at.  Of course, this is wholly subjective.

Comments are welcome!        

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: (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!

Q: Please speak about how the three pastel paintings series that you have created interrelate.

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

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

A:  The Black Paintings series of pastel-on-sandpaper paintings grew directly from an earlier series, Domestic Threats.  While both use cultural objects as surrogates for human beings acting in mysterious, highly-charged narratives, in the Black Paintings I replaced all background details of my actual setup (furniture, rugs, etc.) with lush black pastel.  In this work the ‘actors’ are front and center.

While traveling in Bolivia last spring, I visited a mask exhibition at the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz.  The masks were presented against black walls, were spot-lit, and looked eerily like 3D versions of my Black Paintings.  I immediately knew I had stumbled upon a gift.  So  far I have completed three pastel paintings in the Bolivianos series.  Two more are in progress now.

All of my pastel paintings are an example of a style called “contemporary conceptual realism” in which things are not quite as innocent as they seem.  Each painting is a Trojan horse.  There is plenty of backstory to my images, although I usually prefer not to over-explain them.  Much is to be said for mystery in art.  

The world I depict is that of the imagination and this realm owes little debt to the natural world.  Recently, at an art talk I was reminded how fascinating it is to learn how others respond to my work.  As New York art critic Gerrit Henry once remarked, “What we bring to a Rachko… we get back, bountifully.” 

Comments are welcome!

 

Q: What do you dislike most about being an artist?

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

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

A:  It’s the fact that too often artists remain unappreciated while they are alive and/or do not share in the rewards after long years of struggle against numbing odds.  They/we do whatever is necessary to keep creating new work even as it is ignored and misunderstood. 

This unfortunate situation has repeated itself throughout the history of art.  As Hilary Spurling stated in the preface to her two-volume biography, Matisse The Master, even Henri Matisse was misunderstood, his work regarded as “merely decorative” during his lifetime and long after.  

At this time I have few illusions about the difficulties of being an artist.   Somehow I still tell myself, ignore the setbacks and work like there’s no tomorrow.

Comments are welcome!               

Q: What has been your scariest experience as an artist?

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

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

A:  It was the approximately six months in 2007 when I finished the “Domestic Threats” series and was blocked, certain that a strong body of work was behind me, yet not knowing what in the world to do next!  For a professional artist who had been working non-stop for 21 years, this was a profoundly painful, confusing, and disorienting time.  I remember continuing to force myself to go to the studio and for lack of anything much to do there, spending long hours reading and thinking about art.

Eventually after all of this reflection, I had an epiphany.  “Between,” with drastically simplified imagery, was the first in a new series called, “Black Paintings.”  I like to think this series includes work that is considerably richer and more profound than the previous “Domestic Threats.”


Co
mments are welcome! 

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

Start

Start

Finished and signed, lower right

Finished and signed, lower right

Comments are welcome!

 

 

 

Q: On an average day in the studio, how much of your time is spent in the physical act of making art?

Working

Working

A:  My typical studio day is from 10:00 to 5:00.  When I arrive, I often read for half an hour.  Reading helps me relax and focus and get into the mindset I need to do my work.   While I read, I look at the painting on my easel, assess it’s current state, and decide where to begin working.

Then I work until lunch time, generally around 1:00.  After lunch I work for another five hours or so, taking a break whenever I want.

This has been more or less my schedule for five days a week for years.  At an earlier point as I was developing my craft, I would work 9- or 10-hour days and six days a week.

My creative process is relatively slow.  In a typical year I create five  new pastel paintings.  This year I am right on schedule.  I have completed four and am working on a fifth.

Comments are welcome!    

Q: Is your work fast or is it slow?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  I work extremely slowly.  I’m a full-time artist and I spend three or four months on each pastel painting, sometimes longer if it’s an especially difficult piece.  

I generally have two pastel paintings in progress and switch off when one is causing problems.  The paintings tend to interact and influence each other.  Having two in progress helps me resolve difficult areas quicker, plus when one is finished, I still have something to work on.  So there’s rarely any dead time in my studio.

Comments are welcome!