Blog Archives

Q: Do you remember the first pastel painting that you ever made?

First framed pastel painting, 1988

First framed pastel painting, 1988

A:  Yes, it was a small head-and-neck portrait of a live model in a figure drawing class at The Art League School in Alexandria, VA.   I don’t know what became of it.

I also remember the first pastel painting that I ever framed because it is still hanging in my Alexandria house. It is dated 1988 (see photo) and was made in a one-week workshop with Diane Tesler at The Art League.  The workshop was specifically to teach artists how to paint from photographs and it was my first time studying with Diane.  I made the mistake of bringing, as reference material, a magazine photograph that was originally a perfume ad in the The Sunday Times Magazine. Diane tactfully explained that it was wrong to use someone else’s photograph instead of my own, but let me do it this one time. 

So many years later walking by my painting I still think of Diane.  She taught me a valuable lesson:  do not use anyone else’s photographs, ever!  

Comments are welcome!   

 

Q: How many studios have you had since you’ve been a professional artist?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A: I am on my third, and probably last, studio.  I say ‘probably’ because I love my space and have no desire to move.  Plus, it would be a tremendous amount of work to relocate, considering that I have been in my West 29th Street studio since 1997. 

My very first studio, in the late 1980s, was the spare bedroom of my house in Alexandria, Virginia.  I set up a studio there while I was on active duty in the Navy.  When I resigned my commission, I was required to give the President an entire year’s advance notice.  Towards the end of that year I remember calling in sick so I could stay home and make art.       

In the early 1990s I rented a studio on the third floor of the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria.  For a while I enjoyed working there, but the constant interruptions – in an art center that is open to the public – became tiresome.  

In 1997 I had the opportunity to move to New York.  I desperately craved solitary hours to work in peace, without interruption, so at first I didn’t have a telephone.  I still don’t have WiFi there because my studio is reserved strictly for creative work.

Moving from Virginia to New York in 1997 was relatively easy.  My aunt, who planned to be in California to continue her Buddhist studies, offered me her rent-controlled sixth-floor walkup on West 13th Street.  I looked at just one other studio before signing a sublease for my space at 208 West 29th Street.  I had heard about the vacancy through a college friend of my husband, Bryan.  Karen, the lease-holder, was relocating to northern California to work on “Star Wars” with George Lucas.  After several years, she decided not to return to New York and I have been the lease-holder ever since.  

Comments are welcome!

 

Q: What was the first painting you ever sold?

“Bryan’s Ph.D.”, 11″ x 13 1/2″, soft pastel on sandpaper

A:  I believe my first sale was “Bryan’s Ph.D.”  I made it in 1990 as one of several small paintings created to improve my skills at rendering human hands in pastel.  I had recently left the Navy and was building a career as a portrait artist.  Bryan, my late husband, was often my model for these studies, not only because it was convenient, but because he had such beautiful hands. 

In 1990 Bryan was working on his Ph.D. in economics at the University of Maryland.  In this painting he is drawing a diagram that illustrates a theoretical point about “international public goods,” the subject of his research.  He was sitting in an old wooden rocking chair in our backyard in Alexandria, VA.  I still own the chair and the house.  I photographed his hands close-up and then created the painting.  I don’t remember which of Bryan’s cameras I used, but it was one that took 35 mm film; perhaps his Nikon F-2.  Somewhere I must still have the negative and the original reference photo.

“Bryan’s Ph.D.” is 11″ x 13 1/2″ and it sold for $500 at a monthly juried exhibition at The Art League in Alexandria.  I have not seen it since 1990.  (Above is a photograph of “Bryan’s Ph.D.” from my portfolio book).

Not long ago the owner contacted me, explaining that she had received the painting as a gift from her now ex-husband.  She was selling it because it evoked bitter memories of her divorce.  Her phone call was prompted by uncertainty about the painting’s value now.  She had a likely buyer and needed to know what price to charge.

I was saddened because I have so many beautiful memories of this particular painting and of an idyllic time in my life with Bryan.  He was on a leave of absence from the Pentagon to work on his dissertation, while I was finished with active duty.  At last I was a full time artist, busily working in the spare bedroom that we had turned into my first studio.  

My conversation with the owner was a reminder that once paintings are let out into the world, they take on associations that have nothing to do with the personal circumstances surrounding their creation.  In short, what an artist creates solely out of love, stands a good chance of not being loved or appreciated by others.  This is one reason to only sell my work to people I select personally.  I ended the telephone conversation hoping that “Bryan’s Ph.D.” fares better in its new home.  

Comments are welcome!     

Q: When was the last time you flew? Do you ever miss it?

Over the Gulf of Mexico

Over the Gulf of Mexico

A:  I last piloted a plane out of Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland, some years after I moved to Alexandria, Virginia.  It was in the mid-1990s.

Now and then I miss flying, but my interests have changed considerably and I am much more passionate about art than aviation.  I still love physically being in the air – on an airliner, in a helicopter, etc. – and sometimes I dream about taking a few lessons to become reacquainted with flying small planes again, but I haven’t taken any action.

Comments are welcome!  

Pearls from artists* # 84

My Alexandria living room

My Alexandria living room

* 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 have a stockpile of sculptures, paintings, and drawings – every work of art I have made that has not sold – in a storage space for which I pay every month as regularly as I pay my utility bills.  This is a sensible arrangement, as I can leave this work to my children.  Most of the time I never give it a thought, but this morning it flashed across my mind that if it were blown away I would be bereaved in a way that would hurt me very much.  I have not been inordinately materialistic, but I am attached to my house, to my inherited belongings, and to the things that I have chosen for myself.  All these objects add complexity to my emotional ties to people with whom I have shared, and share, my life, and to my aspirations for myself.

Anne Truitt in Turn:  The Journal of an Artist 

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 22

Alexandria living room

Alexandria living room

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

So inclination you see is not lacking, and yet in all probability I shall have to try right here to clamber in the dark and all alone over the crest of the year, so to speak, for disciplinary reasons.  I shall not deserve it otherwise, that is:  I have long wanted to be here all alone, strictly alone, to go into my cocoon, to pull myself together, in short, to live by my heart and nothing else.  Now since day before yesterday I have really been here all alone inside the old walls – outside, the sea, outside, the Karst, outside, the rain, perhaps tomorrow the storm – now must appear what is within by way of counterweight to such great and fundamental things.  So, if something quite unexpected does not come, it may be the right thing to say, to hold out, to hold still with a kind of curiosity toward oneself, don’t you think?  That is how things stand, and if I stir now everything will shift again; and then hearts are labeled, like certain medicines:  shake before taking; I have been continually shaken in these last years, but never taken, that is why it is better that I should quietly arrive at clarity and precipitation…    

Jane Bannard Greene and M.D. Herter Norton, translators, Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke 1910 – 1926

Comments are welcome!

Q: Do you name your characters?

Lola in "He Urged Her to Abdicate," soft pastel on sandpaper

Lola in “He Urged Her to Abdicate,” soft pastel on sandpaper

A:  No, normally I don’t, but there is one notable exception.  Lola – I could hardly call her any other name – is a red-dressed, cigarette-smoking, black-stocking cloth doll made by an artist in Mexico City.  I never met her creator, but years ago a man came into my Alexandria, Virginia studio (where I had a studio at the Torpedo Factory, an art center that is open to the public), and announced that he knew Lola’s maker and he, the maker, would be extremely pleased with what I’d done with her – made her the star of several of my pastel-on-sandpaper paintings.  Many years later Lola continues to be one of my favorite characters and “He Urged Her to Abdicate,” set in the bathroom of a six floor walk-up I rented when I first moved to New York, is my favorite Lola painting. 

To learn more about this painting, please read the essay by Britta Konau on page 10 at:

http://www.barbararachko.com/PDF/DomesticThreats.pdf

Comments are welcome!

Q: How large is your collection of Mexican folk art objects?

Part of the collection

Part of the collection

A: I haven’t counted them, but my guess is 200 pieces of various sizes. This includes the Guatemalan figures. I went to Guatemala in 2009 and 2010. Since I divide my time between a house in Alexandria, VA, an apartment in Manhattan, and a studio in Chelsea, part of my folk art collection is in each of these places.