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: Have any artists influenced you technically?

Barbara at work, Photo: Marianne Barcellona

Barbara at work, Photo: Marianne Barcellona

A:  I’d have to say no one, because my technique of using soft pastel on sandpaper is largely self-invented and it continues to slowly evolve.  I apply up to thirty layers of pigment, blending it with my fingers, and creating new colors directly on the sandpaper.  It is a rather meticulous process that suits my personality.

My unique way of applying and mixing pastel is a richly complex science of color.  This intricate technique is one of the reasons that my pastel paintings cannot be forged by anyone.

Every great artist throughout history has invented their own techniques and created a world that is uniquely theirs, with its own iconography, its own laws, and its own specific concerns.  Artists who are most worthy of the name create their own tasks and make and break their own rules.  

Comments are welcome!

Q: What do you think are the most important qualities in an artist?

“Big Deal,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″

A: Two essentials immediately come to mind.  I believe imagination and curiosity are very important qualities, not only for artists, but for anyone who hopes to look back on a well-lived life.  As Lauren Bacall famously said, “Imagination is the highest kite one can fly.” 

It is curiosity that keeps people laser-focused on a lifetime journey of learning.  I’d venture to say that curiosity is the not-so-secret quality of accomplished people in every profession.  We humans can never know enough!

Comments are welcome!            

Pearls from artists* # 148

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 want Bob Iger, the head of Disney, to invest in my ideas.  In fact … one of my ideas is … I love Walt Disney … I feel Disney should have an art fund that completely supports all of the arts.  And I feel that there should be a responsibility, recruiters, constantly looking for new thinkers and connecting them directly to companies that already work.  Why does the person who has the most genius idea or cultural understanding or can create the best art have to figure out how to become a businessman in order to become successful at expressing himself?  I think it’s important for anyone that’s in power to empower.

Kanye West in Choice Quotes from Kanye’s Address at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, in Hyperallergic, May 12, 2015

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 125

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.

My own natural proclivity is to categorize the world around me, to remove unfamiliar objects from their dangerous  perches by defining, compartmentalizing and labeling them.  I want to know what things are and I want to know where they are and I want to control them.  I want to remove the danger and replace it with the known.  I want to feel safe.  I want to feel out of danger.

And yet, as an artist, I know that I must welcome the strange and the unintelligible into my awareness and into my working process.  Despite my propensity to own and control everything around me, my job is to “make the familiar strange and the strange familiar,” as Bertolt Brecht recommended:  to un-define and un-tame what has been delineated by belief systems and conventions, and to welcome the discomfort of doubt and the unknown, aiming to make visible what has become invisible by habit.

Because life is filled with habit, because our natural desire is to make countless assumptions and treat our surroundings as familiar and unthreatening, we need art to wake us up.  Art un-tames, reifies and wakes up the part of our lives that have been put to sleep and calcified by habit.  The artist, or indeed anyone who wants to turn daily life into an adventure, must allow people, objects and places to be dangerous and freed from the definitions that they have accumulated over time.            

Anne Bogart in What’s the Story:  Essays about art, theater, and storytelling

Comments are welcome!

Q: In the “Black Paintings” you create a deep intellectual interaction and communicate a wide variety of states of mind. I admit that certain “Black Paintings” unsettle me a bit. I see in this series an effective mix between anguish and happiness. Rather than simply describing something, these paintings pose a question and force us to contemplation. Can you talk about this aspect of your work?

"The Storyteller," soft pastel on sandpaper, 20" x 26"

“The Storyteller,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 20″ x 26″

A:  I’m sure you and other viewers will see all kinds of states of mind, like anguish, happiness, and everything in between.  I think that’s wonderful because it means my work is communicating a message to you.  Sometimes people have told me that my images are unsettling and that’s fine, too.  I would never presume to tell anyone what to think about my work.  As one reviewer put it, “What you bring to my work you get back in spades!”  

Some of this is intentional, but some is not.  My day-to-day experiences – what I’m thinking about, what I’m feeling, what I’m reading, the music I’m listening to, etc. –  get embedded into the work. I don’t understand exactly how that happens, but I am glad it happens. This work does come from a deep place, much deeper than I am able to explain even to myself. After nearly three decades as an artist, the intricacies of my creative process are still a mystery. Personally, I am very fond of mysteries and don’t need to understand it all.  

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 59

Studio

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.

Friends sometimes ask, “Don’t you get lonely sitting by yourself all day?”  At first it seemed odd to hear myself say No.  Then I realized that I was not alone; I was in the book; I was with the characters.  I was with my Self.

Not only do I not feel alone with my characters; they are more vivid and interesting to me than the people in my real life.  If you think about it, the case can’t be otherwise.  In order for a book (or any project or enterprise) to hold our attention for the length of time it takes to unfold itself, it has to plug into some internal perplexity or passion that is of paramount importance to us.  The problem becomes the theme of our work, even if we can’t at the start understand or articulate it.  As the characters arise, each embodies infallibly an aspect of that dilemma, that perplexity.  These characters might not be interesting to anyone else but they’re absolutely fascinating to us.  They are us.  Meaner, smarter, sexier versions of ourselves.  It’s fun to be with them because they’re wrestling with the same issue that has its hooks into us.  They’re our soul mates, our lovers, our best friends.  Even the villains.  Especially the villains.  

Stephen Pressfield in The War of Art

Comments are welcome!   

Pearls from artists* # 43

Boulder, CO

Boulder, CO

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

Why would anyone read a book instead of watching big people move on a screen?  Because a book can be literature.  It is a subtle thing – a poor thing, but our own.  In my view, the more literary the book – the more purely verbal, crafted sentence by sentence, the more imaginative, reasoned, and deep – the more likely people are to read it.  The people who read are the people who like literature, after all, whatever that might be.  They like, or require, what books alone have.  If they want to see films that evening, they will find films.  If they do no like to read, they will not.  People who read are not too lazy to flip on the television; they prefer books.  I cannot imagine a sorrier pursuit than struggling for years to write a book that attempts to appeal to people who do not read in the first place.   

Annie Dillard in The Writing Life

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 35

Westbeth, NYC

Westbeth, NYC

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

An individual who has committed himself to art and now wrestles within it, having given up everything else, has also become strict, you see.  Such a person is more likely to warn off others rather than to beckon them to enter into a realm of the most tremendous demands and indescribable sacrifices.  And for someone sitting at his desk, behind closed doors, matters are still relatively simple:  at least he has to deal only with himself.  But an actor, even when his work originates in the purest experiences of his being, stands in the open and performs his work in the open where he is exposed to all the influences, detractions, disturbances, and even hostilities that originate in his colleagues and his audience and that interrupt, distract, and split him off.  For him things are more difficult than for anyone else; above all, he needs to lure success and to base his actions on it.  And yet what misery results if this new alignment leads him to abandon the inner direction that had driven him into art in the first place.  He seems to have no self; his job consists in letting others dictate selves to him.  And the audience, once it has accepted him, wants to preserve him within the limits where it finds entertainment; and yet his achievement depends entirely upon his capacity to maintain an interior constancy through all kinds of changes, blindly, like a madman.  Any momentary weakness toward success is as sure to doom him as giving in and drawing on applause as a precondition for their creation spells doom for the painter or poet.

Ulrich Baer in The Wisdom of Rilke

Comments are welcome!     

Pearls from artists* # 30

East Hampton house

East Hampton house

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

And, just as the analysis of a film by a psychoanalyst can tell us about some implications and some sources of a labour that is all the less tightly under our control since the material problems we encounter during it make us insensible to tiredness and leave our unconscious quite free, so the interpretation of one of our works by the mind of an outsider can show it to us from a new, and revealing perspective.

How disturbed we should be, were there some machine that would allow us to follow the thousand brains in a cinema!  No doubt, we should stop writing.  We should be wrong to do so, but it would be a hard lesson.  What Jules de Noailles said (recounted by Liszt) is true:  ‘You will see one day that it is hard to speak about anything to anyone.’  Yet it is equally true that each person takes in or rejects the sustenance that we offer, and that the people who absorb it, do so in their own way; and this it is that determines the progress of a work through the centuries, because if a work were to send back only a perfect echo, the result would be a kind of pleonasm, an inert exchange, a dead perfection.

Andre Bernard and Claude Gauteur, editors, Jean Cocteau:  The Art of Cinema

Comments are welcome!

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