Category Archives: New York, NY

Pearls from artists* # 501

New York City

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

When I talk about “creative living” here, please understand that I am not necessarily talking about pursuing a life that is professionally or exclusively devoted to the arts. I’m not saying that you must become a poet who lives on a mountaintop in Greece, or that you must perform at Carnegie Hall, or that you must win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. (Though if you want to attempt any of these feats, have at it. I love to watch people swing for the bleachers.) No, when I refer to “creative living,” I am speaking more broadly. I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.

... A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner – continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you – is a fine art, in and of itself.

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

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Pearls from artists* # 488

New York Harbor

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

To be astonished is to be caught unawares by the revelation of realities denied or repressed in the everyday. Astonishment has an intellectual as well as an emotional component – in it, the brain and the heart come together. Far from distracting us from the strange and the uncanny in life, the astonishment evoked by great artistic works puts them square in our sights. The work demands that we feel and think the mystery of our passage through this body, on this earth, in this universe. We realize afterward that the world is not what we thought it was: something hidden, impossible to communicate though clearly expressed in the work has risen into the light of awareness, and the share of the Real to which we are privy is proportionately expanded.

JF Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice: A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action

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Happy New Year from New York City!

View from Brooklyn

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Merry Christmas from New York City!

The tree belonged to my mom.

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Q: What was the first New York gallery that represented your work and how did they find you?

Exhibition Review

A: My first (and still the best) New York gallery was Brewster Gallery on West 57th Street in what, in 1996, was the most important gallery district in Manhattan. By joining Brewster, my work was exhibited alongside an impressive list of Latin American painters and sculptors such as Leonora Carrington, Frida Kahlo, Francisco Zuniga, Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera, Francisco Toledo, and more. Brewster was a prestigious and elegant gallery, well-known throughout the Latin American art world for their superb exhibitions and their contributions to art history scholarship.

Since I am not Latina, my work was selected by virtue of its Mexican subject matter and level of craftsmanship. Mia Kim, the owner/director, told me that amidst so many deserving, unrepresented, and talented artists of Latin American heritage, she was sometimes challenged to defend her decision to represent me. Mia’s response was always, “Barbara may not be of Latin American ancestry, but she most assuredly has the soul of a Latina! Her work has obvious affinities to Leonora’s, the other non-Latina that we represent.”

In July of 1996, while I was still living in Virginia, I mailed a slide sheet and reviews to Brewster, thinking that during the slow summer months, perhaps someone might actually LOOK at my material. Then I forgot all about it as Bryan and I headed off on a trip to Mexico. While we were in Mexico City, something told me to check our phone messages at the house in Alexandria. I did so and was floored to hear Mia offer me representation and a two-person show in October. The first time she would even see my work in person would be when I delivered it to the gallery!

In October my “Domestic Threats” pastel paintings were paired with work by Cuban artist, Tomas Esson, for an exhibition called “Monkey Business.” The opening was extremely well-attended by a sophisticated international New York crowd. A highlight was meeting Leonora Carrington, one of my artist heroes of long standing. Afterwards a large group of us were wined and dined at a French restaurant around the corner on West 58th Street. I remember looking at Bryan and saying, “I think I’ve made it!” The next day there was a favorable review in a publication called, “Open Air.” After working in complete obscurity for thirteen years, I was finally on my way.

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Q: How do you work and approach your subject? (Question from “Arts Illustrated”)

At work
At work

A: Undoubtedly, I could not make my work without UART sandpaper since my entire pastel technique evolved around it.  I use 400 0r 500 grit.  My favorite thing about it is its ‘tooth’ (i.e. texture or roughness).  

Over the many months I spend creating a pastel painting, I build layer upon layer of soft pastel.  Because the paper I use is relatively “toothy,” it accepts all of the pastel the painting needs.  And as many people know, I own and use thousands of soft pastels!

Many layers of soft pastel and several months of studio time go into creating each painting.  My self-invented technique is analogous to the glazing techniques used by the Old Masters, who slowly built up layers of thin oil paint to achieve a high degree of finish.  Colors were not only mixed physically, but optically.  

Similarly, I gradually build up layers of soft pastel, as many as thirty, to create a pastel painting.  After applying a color, I blend it with my fingers and push it into the sandpaper’s tooth.  It mixes with the color beneath to create a new color, continually adding richness, saturation, and intensity to the piece.  By the time a pastel painting is finished, the colors are bold, vibrant, and exciting.

From the beginning in the 1980s I used photographs as reference material and my late husband, Bryan, would shoot 4” x 5” negatives of my elaborate setups with his Toyo-Omega view camera. In those days I rarely picked up a camera except when we were traveling. After Bryan was killed on 9/11, I inherited his extensive camera collection – old Nikons, Leicas, Graphlex cameras, etc. – and I wanted to learn how to use them. In 2002 I enrolled in a series of photography courses (about 10 over 4 years) at the International Center of Photography in New York. I learned how to use all of Bryan’s cameras and how to make my own big color prints in the darkroom.

Along the way I discovered that the sense of composition, form, and color I developed over many years as a painter translated well into photography. The camera was just another medium with which to express my ideas. Astonishingly, in 2009 I had my first solo photography exhibition in New York.

It’s wonderful to be both a painter and a photographer. Pastel painting will always be my first love, but photography lets me explore ideas much faster than I ever could as a painter. Paintings take months of work. To me, photographs – from the initial impulse to hanging a framed print on the wall – are instant gratification.

For several years I have been using my iPad Pro to capture thousands of travel photographs.  Most recently, I visited Gujarat and Rajasthan in India. I have never been inclined to use a sketchbook so composing photos on my iPad keeps my eye sharp while I’m halfway around the world, far from my studio practice.

My blog, “Barbara Rachko’s Colored Dust,” continues to be a crucial part of my overall art practice.  Blogging twice a week forces me to think deeply about my work and to explain it clearly to others.  The process has helped me develop a better understanding about why I make art and, I like to think, has helped me to become a better writer.

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Q: What are your favorite subject(s) and media? (Question from “Arts Illustrated”)

Barbara’s New York Studio

A: Here’s the short answer. I work exclusively in soft pastel on sandpaper, using self-invented pastel techniques that I have been refining for thirty-five years.  Since 2017, I have depicted authentic Bolivian Carnival masks that I encountered and photographed at the Museum of Ethnography and Folklore In La Paz.

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Pearls from artists* # 455

New York City

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

You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book (Lady Chatterley, for instance), or you take a trip, or you talk with [someone], and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death.

Some never awaken. They are like the people who go to sleep in the snow and never awaken. But I am not in danger because my home, my garden, my beautiful life do not lull me. I am aware of being in a beautiful prison, from which I can only escape by writing.

Anaïs  Nin in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Volume 3: 1939-1944

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Pearls from artists* # 439

New York Harbor

New York Harbor

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

Art is a way of preserving experiences, of which there are many transient and beautiful examples, and that we need help containing.  There is an analogy to be made with the task of carrying water and the tool that helps us do it.  Imagine being out in a park on a blustery April day.  We look up at the clouds and feel moved by their beauty and grace.  They feel delightfully separate from the day-to-day bustle of our lives.  We give our minds to the clouds, and for a time we are relieved of our preoccupations and placed in a wider context that stills the incessant complaints of our egos.  John Constable’s cloud studies invite us to concentrate, much more than we would normally, on the distinctive textures and shapes of individual clouds, to look at their variations in colour and at the way they mass together.  Art edits down complexity and helps us to focus, albeit briefly, on the most meaningful aspects.  In making his cloud studies, Constable didn’t expect us to become deeply concerned with meteorology.  The precise nature of a cumulonimbus is not the issue.  Rather, he wished to intensify the emotional meaning of the soundless drama that unfolds daily above our heads, making it more readily available to us and encouraging us to afford it the central position it deserves.                 

Alain de Botton and John Armstrong in Art as Therapy          

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