Category Archives: Working methods

Q: Would you share your artist’s statement for the “Bolivianos” series?

Museum of Ethnography and Folklore, La Paz, Bolivia

Museum of Ethnography and Folklore, La Paz, Bolivia

A:  Here it is.

My long-standing fascination with traditional masks took a leap forward in the spring of 2017 when I visited the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz, Bolivia. One particular exhibition on view, with more than fifty festival masks, was completely spell-binding.

The masks were old and had been crafted in Oruro, a former tin-mining center about 140 miles south of La Paz on the cold Altiplano (elevation 12,000’). Depicting important figures from Bolivian folklore traditions, the masks were created for use in Carnival celebrations that happen each year in late February or early March. 

Carnival in Oruro revolves around three great dances. The dance of “The Incas” records the conquest and death of Atahualpa, the Inca emperor when the Spanish arrived in 1532.  “The Morenada” dance was once assumed to represent black slaves who worked in the mines, but the truth is more complicated (and uncertain) since only mitayo Indians were permitted to do this work.  The dance of “The Diablada” depicts Saint Michael fighting against Lucifer and the seven deadly sins.  The latter were originally disguised in seven different masks derived from medieval Christian symbols and mostly devoid of pre-Columbian elements (except for totemic animals that became attached to Christianity after the Conquest).  Typically, in these dances the cock represents Pride, the dog Envy, the pig Greed, the female devil Lust, etc.

The exhibition in La Paz was stunning and dramatic. Each mask was meticulously installed against a dark black wall and strategically spotlighted so that it became alive.  The whole effect was uncanny.  The masks looked like 3D versions of my “Black Paintings,” a pastel paintings series I have been creating for ten years.  This experience was a gift… I could hardly believe my good fortune!

Knowing I was looking at the birth of a new painting series – I said as much to my companions as I remained behind while they explored other parts of the museum – I spent considerable time composing photographs.  Consequently, I have enough reference material to create new pastel paintings in the studio for several years. The series, entitled “Bolivianos,” is arguably my strongest and most striking work to date.  

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! 

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I’m trying to finish “Oracle,” but every time I think I’m getting close, I see there are plenty of unresolved areas and/or things I can still improve.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Would you describe how you are taking soft pastel in new directions as a fine art medium?

Barbara at work, Photo: Marianne Barcellona

Barbara at work, Photo: Marianne Barcellona

A:  I have been devoted to soft pastel for more than thirty years.  In this blog and in countless interviews online and elsewhere, I continue to expound on its merits.  For me no other fine art medium comes close.

I have developed my own original methods for working with soft pastel, pushing this venerable 500-year-old medium to its limits and using it in ways that no one has done before.  I have created a unique science of color in which I layer and blend pigments.  When viewers (including fellow artists) see my work in person for the first time, they often ask, “What medium is this?”  

My self-invented techniques for using soft pastel achieve rich velvety textures and exceptionally vibrant color.  Blending with my fingers, I painstakingly apply dozens of layers of pastel onto acid-free sandpaper.  In addition to the thousands of pastels that I have to choose from, I blend new colors directly on the paper.  Each pastel painting takes about three months and hundreds of hours to complete. 

My subject matter is singular.  I am drawn to Mexican, Guatemalan, and Bolivian cultural objects—masks, carved wooden animals, papier mâché figures, and toys.  On trips to these places and elsewhere I frequent local mask shops, markets, and bazaars searching for the figures that will populate my pastel paintings.  How, why, when, and where these objects come into my life is an important part of the creative process.  Each pastel painting is a highly personal blend of reality, fantasy, and autobiography.

Comments 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: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  This is the first day – with only one layer of soft pastel in most places – of a 38″ x 58″ pastel painting.  It’s based on a photo I composed at the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz, Bolivia.  This is the fourth work in my “Bolivianos” series.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Do you lose yourself in your work?

Barbara at work

Barbara at work

A:  Of course!  When I am having a productive day in the studio, I am completely present and focused, fully immersed in solving technical problems and trying to improve the painting on my easel.  I barely notice the time and have to remind myself to take a break or stop for lunch.  Nothing else exists except the painting and my relationship with it.  The rest of life completely falls away from my consciousness.

I believe most artists regularly experience this feeling of ‘flow.’  It is a state of being that is inherent and necessary to creative work of all kinds.

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!    

Start/finish of “The Orator,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″

Start

Start

Finish

Finish

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

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

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

A:  Having finally finished “The Orator” (bottom), I continue working on a small pastel painting that does not have a title yet (top).  The latter is the third piece in my “Bolivianos” series.  

Comments are welcome!