Q: Would you speak about how important it was to get back to work after losing your husband on 9/11?
A: On September 11, 2001, my husband Bryan, a high-ranking federal government employee, a brilliant economist (with an IQ of 180 he is still the smartest man I’ve ever met) and a budget analyst at the Pentagon, was en route to Monterrey, CA to give his monthly guest lecture for an economics class at the Naval Postgraduate College. He had the horrible misfortune of flying out of Dulles airport and boarding the plane that was high-jacked and crashed into the Pentagon, killing 189 people. Losing Bryan was the biggest shock of my life and devastating in every possible way.
The following summer I was ready to – I HAD to – get back to work. Learning about photography and pastel painting became avenues to my well-being. I use reference photos for my paintings, so my first challenge was to learn how to use Bryan’s 4 x 5 view camera (Bryan always took these reference photos for me).
In July 2002 I enrolled in a one-week view camera workshop at the International Center of Photography in New York. Much to my surprise, I had already acquired substantial technical knowledge from watching Bryan. Still, after the initial workshop, I threw myself into this new medium and continued studying photography at ICP for several years. I began with Photography I and enrolled in many more classes until I gradually learned how to use Bryan’s extensive camera collection, to properly light my setups, and to print large chromogenic photographs in a darkroom.
In October 2009 it was very gratifying to have my first solo photography exhibition with HP Garcia in New York. (Please see http://barbararachko.art/images/PDFS/BarbaraRachko-HPGargia.pdf). I vividly remember tearing up at the opening as I imagined Bryan looking down at me with his beautiful smile, beaming as he surely would have, so proud of me for having become a respected photographer.
Continuing to make art had seemed an impossibility after Bryan’s death. However, the first large pastel painting that I created using a self-made reference photograph proved my life’s work could continue. The title of that painting, “She Embraced It and Grew Stronger,” is certainly autobiographical. “She” is me, and “it” means continuing on without Bryan and living life for both of us.
Comments are welcome!
Q: One can’t help but make connections between the devastating effects of 9/11 and your series, “Domestic Threats.” Would they be right?
A: Well, not exactly, since I began this work in 1991.
All of the paintings in this series are set in places where I reside or used to live, either a Virginia house or two New York apartments, i.e., my personal domestic environments. Each painting typically contains a conflict of some sort, at least one figure that is being menaced or threatened by a group of figures. For example, in “No Cure for Insomnia (above) the threatened figure is me. So it was an easy decision to name the series “Domestic Threats.” My idea was that these paintings were psychological dramas: surrealistic, metaphoric depictions of human fears, anxieties, inner conflicts, demons, etc.
But depending on what is/was going on in the country at a particular moment, people make other associations. Since my husband was killed on 9/11, people think the title, “Domestic Threats,” was prescient and ascribed all kinds of domestic terrorism associations to the work. For a time viewers thought I was hinting at scenes of domestic violence, but that also is not what I intended. The title “Domestic Threats” has proven to be fraught with associations that I never considered.
However, I am fine with any interpretations that are elicited because it means my paintings are getting a response. That’s important. I have been working, studying, and thinking about art for thirty years and hopefully, that’s reflected in the work I create. It’s natural that it takes time for people to ponder all the complexities in a work of art.
Maybe this comment by the late Gerrit Henry, a New York critic, is more true now than when he wrote it sixteen years ago: “What we bring to a Rachko, in other words, we get back, bountifully.”
Comments are welcome!
A. That is a long story. To get far away from New York for the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, my friend, Donna Tang, and I planned a two-week road trip to see land art sites in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. (Donna did excellent research).
We hoped for a private tour of Roden Crater with James Turrell, which is not easy to arrange. I had also invited my friend Ann Landi, an art critic and arts writer, to join us, hoping she might get an interview with Turrell and write an article for Artnews. Turrell has been working on Roden Crater for 30+ years so Ann was interested in seeing it too! Ann contacted Turrell’s gallery – Gagosian – but they later relayed Turrell’s refusal.
We were planning to see other land art sites. As an alternative to Roden Crater and Turrell, Ann pitched a story to The Wall Street Journal about Sun Tunnels and Nancy Holt (Robert Smithson’s wife, who as the only woman in the land art movement, has never been given her due). The Journal said yes, so Ann made plans to join Donna and me in Salt Lake City.
The three of us visited Sun Tunnels, Spiral Getty, and other sites together. Ann had a brand new point-and-shoot camera that she hadn’t yet learned how to use. I always take lots of photos whenever I travel. After we returned home, I sent Ann a few images and she asked permission to submit them with her article. I was thrilled when The Wall Street Journal requested JPEGs. It was the first time I’ve had a photograph published in a major newspaper.
Comments are welcome!
A: I am pushing soft pastel to its limits, using it in ways that no artist has done before. I want people to see what is possible to accomplish with this medium. Because I have experienced unspeakable heartache – the loss of my husband on 9/11, onboard the high-jacked airplane that crashed into the Pentagon – when viewers learn about my life story, I hope to serve as an inspiration to keep forging ahead regardless of what tragedies life may bring. These are the main reasons that I wrote my eBook.
Comments are welcome!
I am pleased to announce that my first eBook, FROM PILOT TO PAINTER, is available now on Amazon!
It is based on my blog and is part memoir, including my personal loss on 9/11, insights into my creative practice, and intimate reflections on what it’s like to be an artist living in New York City now.
The eBook includes new material not found on the blog: 25+ reproductions of my vibrant pastel-on-sandpaper paintings, a Foreword by Ann Landi (who writes for ARTnews and The Wall Street Journal), and more.
Thank you for your support!
Note: If you do not own a Kindle, you can download a free Kindle app.
Here is the one for MACs:
Here is a link for the rest:
Kindle Cloud Reader – Read instantly in your browser
Smartphones – iPhone & iPod touch, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry
Computers – Mac, Windows 8, Windows 7, XP & Vista
Tablets – iPad, Android Tablet, Windows 8
Comments are welcome!
* 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 artist’s job is to get in touch with the dark places of the soul and then shed light there. Sharing the process with others is the point. Within the context of our post-Cold War, post-9/11 climate, shedding light in newly fecund dark places is a valuable activity. The dark places of the soul that haunt our dreams are understandably matched by a tendency to shut out the issues with the busy work of the daylight hours. But without looking into those dark places, as Carl Jung suggested, we will lose touch with our essential humanity.
Anne Bogart, and then, you act: making art in an unpredictable world
Comments are welcome!
Q: Can you speak in more detail about how losing your husband, Dr. Bryan C. Jack, on 9/11 affected your artistic practice?
A: On September 11, 2001, Bryan, who was a high-ranking, career, federal government employee, a brilliant economist (with an IQ of 180 he is still the smartest man I’ve ever met) and a budget analyst at the Pentagon, was en route to Monterrey, CA to give his monthly guest lecture for an economics class at the Naval Postgraduate College there. He had the horrible misfortune of flying out of Dulles airport and boarding the plane that was high-jacked and crashed into the Pentagon, killing 189 people.
Losing him was the biggest shock of my life, devastating in every possible way. I think about him every day and I continually think about how easily I, too, could have been killed on 9/11. I had decided not to travel with Bryan to California, a place I absolutely love visiting, only because the planned trip was too short. His plane crashed directly into my (Navy Reserve) office on the fifth floor, e-ring of the Pentagon. I still imagine how close we came to Bryan having been killed on the plane and me perishing in the building. To this day I believe that I was spared for a reason and I strive to make every day count.
The six months after 9/11 passed by in a blur, except that I vividly remember an October 2001 awards ceremony at the DAR Hall in Washington, DC. I was picked up by a big black limousine, sent by the Department of Defense. At the ceremony I sat with members of the president’s cabinet. I accepted the Defense Exceptional Civilian Service Medal for Bryan, an award he would have accepted himself had he been alive, and was addressed face-to-face by George Bush, Jr., not someone I particularly liked (to put it nicely). Later Bryan was given more awards – a Presidential Rank Award, a Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, and the Defense of Freedom Medal. Many other honors came in and I’ll mention two. Bryan’s hometown of Tyler, Texas named a magnet school after him – Dr. Bryan C. Jack Elementary School (the principal and I cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony) – and Stanford University set up the “Bryan Jack Memorial Scholarship,” which annually helps two deserving students attend Stanford Business School.
The following summer I was ready to – I HAD to – get back to work so my first challenge was to learn how to use Bryan’s 4 x 5 view camera. In July 2002 I enrolled in a one-week view camera workshop at the International Center of Photography in New York. Much to my surprise I already knew quite a lot from watching Bryan. Thankfully, I was soon on my way to working again. After the initial workshop, I decided to begin with the basics since I had never formally studied photography before. I threw myself into learning this new (to me) medium. Over the next few years I enrolled in a series of classes at ICP, starting with Photography I. Along the way I learned to use Bryan’s extensive camera collection (old Leicas, Nikons, Mamiyas, and more) and to make my own large chromogenic prints in the darkroom. In October 2009 it was extremely gratifying to have my first solo photography exhibition with HP Garcia in New York (please see the exhibition catalogue on the sidebar). I remember tearing up at the opening as I imagined Bryan looking down at me with his beautiful smile, beaming as he surely would have, so proud of me for having become a photographer.
Comments are welcome!
A: After I lost my husband, Bryan, on 9/11 – as I’ve discussed elsewhere, Bryan photographed most of the setups for my “Domestic Threats” series – I needed to find a way to continue making art. In June 2002 I began studying photography at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York. I took a one week 4 x 5 view camera workshop because Bryan had photographed the setups with a Toyo-Omega view camera. I was surprised to discover that I had absorbed quite a bit of technical information just by watching him. Once I completed the workshop, I decided to start over and to learn as much as I could about photography. So I enrolled in Photography I. Over the next several years I completed about a dozen courses at ICP, eventually learning to make my own large-scale chromogenic prints. Around 2007 I began working seriously as a photographer, creating my photographic series, “Gods and Monsters,” with Bryan’s Mamiya 6 camera. In October 2009 HP Garcia Gallery in New York gave me my first solo photography exhibition (see “Exhibition catalogue” under Blogroll).
I’m busy getting ready for my next solo show there in October. This exhibition will be fairly comprehensive and will include recent photographs (diptychs and single images), new work from the “Black Paintings” series, and a selection of Mexican and Guatemalan figures. There will be an exhibition catalogue and later in the fall, the gallery will publish the first book about my work. I am particularly thrilled about the book, a new, but long overdue, career milestone!
A: All of the paintings in this series are set in places where I reside or used to live, either a Virginia house or New York apartments, i.e., domestic environments. Each painting typically contains a conflict of some sort, at least one figure who is being menaced or threatened by a group of figures. So I named the series “Domestic Threats.” Depending on what is going on in the country at a particular moment in time, however, people have seen political associations in my work. Since my husband was killed on 9/11, many people thought the title, “Domestic Threats,” was prescient. They have ascribed all kinds of domestic terrorism associations to it, but that is not really what I had in mind. For a time some thought I was hinting at scenes of domestic violence, but that also is not what I had intended. “Domestic Threats” seems to be fraught with associations that I never considered, but it’s an apt title for this work.