Category Archives: Gods and Monsters

Q: Would you comment on the origin of the title for your photographic series, “Gods and Monsters”?

Untitled c-print, 24" x 24" edition of 5

Untitled c-print, 24″ x 24″ edition of 5

A:  My title is borrowed directly from a 2001 catalogue essay by the late art critic, Gerritt Henry.  The essay was about my first pastel painting series (“Domestic Threats”) and it’s called, “Barbara Rachko:  Gods and Monsters.”  

Among other shared interests, Gerritt and I both loved old Frankenstein movies from the 1940s.  Around 1998 interest in James Whale, who had directed the original films, was riding high thanks to an Oscar-winning biopic about his last days in Hollywood.  The film was called, “Gods and Monsters.”  The title was taken from a line in “Bride of Frankenstein,” in which Dr. Pretorius toasts Dr. Frankenstein saying, “To a new world of gods and monsters.”

My photographic series came after “Domestic Threats” and some years after Gerritt’s essay was published.  When I was searching for a title for the photos, “Gods and Monsters” seemed a perfect fit!

Comments are welcome!  

Q: What genre do you work in?

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

A:  I consider all of my pastel paintings and photographs to be “contemporary conceptual realism.”  In my work there is a disquieting quality, a feeling that things are not quite as innocent as they at first seem.   The world I depict is a world of the imagination that owes little debt to the natural world.  As one New York art critic noted, “What we bring to a Rachko… we get back, bountifully.”    

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 193

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.

Interviewer:  Your work includes a great range of experience, as well as of form.  What do you think is the greatest quality a poet can have?  Is it formal, or is it a quality of thinking?

Ezra Pound:  I don’t know that you can put the needed qualities in hierarchic order, but he must have a continuous curiosity, which of course does not make him a writer. but if he hasn’t got that he will wither.  And the question of doing anything about it depends on a persistent energy.  A man like Agassiz is never bored, never tired.  The transit from the reception of stimuli to the recording, to the correlation, that is what takes the whole energy of a lifetime.

Writers at Work:  The Paris Review Interviews Second Series, edited by George Plimpton and introduced by Van Wyck Brooks

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Q: Would you say there is a unifying quality to all of the work you have produced in the last thirty years?

Barbara's portfolio book

Barbara’s portfolio book

A:  Yes, I can think of several.  Whether making pastel paintings or printing photographs in the darkroom, I have always been concerned with quality and craftsmanship and never pronounce a work finished until it is the best thing I can make. 

Although I started out as a maker of photorealist portraits in pastel, for twenty-odd years I have worked with Mexican folk art as my primary subject matter, treating these objects very differently in three separate series:  “Black Paintings,” “Domestic Threats,” and “Gods and Monsters.”  The first two are pastel-on-sandpaper paintings while the last is comprised of chromogenic photographs (c-prints).  A few years ago I also started making “Teleidoscopes” using an iPad app to photograph my Mexican and Guatemalan folk art collection.  This last one is just for fun; I do not offer them for sale.

Soft pastel is my first love and the two series of pastel paintings are my best-known work.  My technique for using pastel continues to evolve in intriguing ways.  I doubt I can ever learn all there is to know not only about color, but also about this medium.  Pastel is endlessly fascinating, which is why I have never wanted to switch to anything else. 

Comments are welcome!      

Pearls from artists* # 164

Untitled chromogenic print, 24" x 24," edition of 5

Untitled chromogenic print, 24″ x 24,” edition of 5

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

The Eastern and Western classics are full of gods, saints, and heroes, all striving against life’s odds and overcoming them with perseverance, courage, energy  and hope as well as help from some sort of divine energy.  Unlike the gods, the saints, gurus, and heroes are humanized in creative works.  Otherwise, we would find it difficult to accept them, relate to them or look up to them for inspiration and courage.  It is the humanization of the subject that makes the supernatural sometimes feel real.   And sometimes makes the impossible seem reachable and achievable.  The classic writings all contain humanized heroes, saints and gods.  The characters in these books are so humanized that the courage and inspiration we get from their endurance in overcoming life’s challenges will keep on inspiring readers forever.  Because of this we can aspire to their accomplishments.  If we too are able to create meaningful works providing timeless inspiration to help others, our work will live on.

Samuel Odoquei in Origin of Inspiration:  Seven Short Essays for Creative People  

Comments are welcome!          

Pearls from artists* # 136

 

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.

Francis Bacon interview with David Sylvester

DS:  What do you think are the essential things that go to make an artist, especially now?

FB:  Well, I think there are lots of things.  I think that one of the things is that, if you are going to decide to be a painter, you have got to decide that you are not going to be afraid to make a fool of yourself.  I think another thing is to be able to find subjects which really absorb you to try and do.  I feel without a subject you automatically go back into decoration because you haven’t got the subject which is always eating into you to bring it back – and the greatest art always returns you to the vulnerability of the human situation.

The Art Life:  On Creativity and Career by Stuart Horodner

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Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I am putting finishing touches on a small pastel painting called, “Spectral.”  I worked on it before and after Halloween.  Somewhat atypical for my pastel paintings, it clearly reflects the time of year that it was created.  

Comments are welcome!

Q: Last week you spoke about what happens before you begin a pastel painting. Would you talk about how you actually make the work?

Beginning a new pastel painting

Beginning a new pastel painting

A:  I work on each pastel-on-sandpaper painting for approximately three months.  I try to be in my studio 7 to 8 hours a day, five days a week. 

I make thousands of creative decisions as I apply and layer soft pastels (I have thousands to choose from), blend them with my fingers, and mix new colors directly on the sandpaper.   A finished piece consists of up to 30 layers of soft pastel. 

My self-invented technique accounts for the vivid, intense color that often leads viewers of my originals to look very closely and ask, “What medium is this?”  I believe I am pushing soft pastel to its limits, using it in ways that no other artist has done before.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your process? What happens before you even begin a pastel painting?

Barbara in Bali (far right)

Barbara in Bali (far right)

A:  My process is extremely slow and labor-intensive. 

First, there is foreign travel – often to Mexico, Guatemala or someplace in Asia – to find the cultural objects – masks, carved wooden animals, paper mâché figures, and toys – that are my subject matter.  I search the local markets, bazaars, and mask shops for these folk art objects. I look for things that are old, that look like they have a history, and were probably used in religious festivals of some kind. Typically, they are colorful, one-of-a- kind objects that have lots of inherent personality. How they enter my life and how I get them back to my New York studio is an important part of my art-making practice. 

My working methods have changed dramatically over the nearly thirty years that I have been an artist. My current process is a much simplified version of how I used to work.  As I pared down my imagery in the current series, “Black Paintings,” my creative process quite naturally pared down, too. 

One constant is that I have always worked in series with each pastel painting leading quite naturally to the next.  Another is that I always set up a scene, plan exactly how to light and photograph it, and work with a 20″ x 24″ photograph as the primary reference material. 

In the setups I look for eye-catching compositions and interesting colors, patterns, and shadows.  Sometimes I make up a story about the interaction that is occurring between the “actors,” as I call them.

In the “Domestic Threats” series I photographed the scene with a 4″ x 5″ Toyo Omega view camera.  In my “Gods and Monsters” series I shot rolls of 220 film using a Mamiya 6. I still like to use an old analog camera for fine art work, although I have been rethinking this practice.   

Nowadays the first step is to decide which photo I want to make into a painting (currently I have a backlog of photographs to choose from) and to order a 19 1/2″ x 19 1/2″ image (my Mamiya 6 shoots square images) printed on 20″ x 24″ paper.  They recently closed, but I used to have the prints made at Manhattan Photo on West 20th Street in New York.  Now I go to Duggal.  Typically I have in mind the next two or three paintings that I want to create.

Once I have the reference photograph in hand, I make a preliminary tonal charcoal sketch on a piece of white drawing paper.  The sketch helps me think about how to proceed and points out potential problem areas ahead. 

Only then am I ready to start actually making the painting. 

Comments are welcome!    

Pearls from artists* # 100

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.

I think it’s terribly important that people have always made structures that are better and more rigorous and more demanding than we as an audience can live up to for every single moment.  Serious art should be better than you are.  I think my plays are more lucid, more rigorous, than I, Richard, am in my life.  I’m a stumble bum like all the rest of us.  Create art that is better than you are able to manifest in normal life. 

Richard Foreman in Anne Bogart’s Conversations with Anne:  Twenty-four Interviews

Comments are welcome!