Blog Archives

Q: How does art help you explore and understand other cultures? (Question from Arte Realizzata)

Shadow self-portrait, Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India

A: Art helps me explore and understand other cultures by revealing our shared humanity across space and time. For me art and travel are intertwined; there is no better education! My art-making has led me to visit fascinating places in search of source material, ideas, and inspiration:  to Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, France, England, Italy, Bali, Java, Sri Lanka, and India. I have seen firsthand that people all over the world are the same.

Art has led me to undertake in-depth studies of intriguing subjects:  drawing, color, composition, art, art history, the art business, film, film history, photography, mythology, literature, music, jazz, jazz history, and archaeology, particularly that of ancient Mesoamerica (Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Aztec, and Maya), and South America (the Inca and their ancestors).

This rich mixture of creative influences continually grows.  For anyone wanting to spend their time on earth studying, learning, and meeting new challenges, there is hardly anything more fascinating than to be a well-travelled, perpetually curious artist! 

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 490

At Triangle Loft, NYC Photo: David De Hannay

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

Wherever apathy reigns supreme, the “strong” are those who can boast that nothing affects them. Numbness and dumbness become positive qualities, and any passionate engagement with life becomes a cause for embarrassment. How many hipsters out there consider passionate commitment of any kind to be a sign that one has been duped? Fortunately this attitude can only go so far, because everything in actual experience suggests to the contrary that passion and sensibility are necessary for anything meaningful to happen to anyone. They are the vital signs that make the difference between an existence that is truly lived out and one that is merely observed from a stifling security of a castellated self that falsely imagines that it can remain detached from the rest of the universe.

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

Comments are welcome!

Q: What about the importance of vision in your training in the Navy has helped you be able to see what you want to create in your art? (Question from “Arte Realizzata”)

Ensign Barbara Rachko, circa 1983
Ensign Barbara Rachko, circa 1983

A: I continue to reflect on what my experiences as a Naval officer contributed to my present career.  Certainly, I learned attention to detail, time management, organization, and discipline, which have all served me well.  I keep regular studio hours (currently 10:00 – 4:00 on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) which I understand is rare among artists. 

Prior to joining the Navy, I had financed my own flight training to become a commercial pilot and Boeing-727 Flight Engineer. However, my Naval career consisted entirely of monotonous paper-work jobs that were not the least bit intellectually challenging.  Finding myself stuck in jobs that reflected neither my skills nor my interests, I made a major life change.  When I left active duty at the Pentagon I resolved, “I have just resigned from the most boring job.  I am going to do my best to never make BORING art!”  Other than this, I an hard-pressed to pinpoint anything the Navy contributed to my art career. 

Comments are welcome!         

Pearls from artists* # 475

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.

In order to warm the artist’s heart, it’s necessary to assert that he is doing good work. Random or wrong-headed praise won’t do the trick, but will only exacerbate the artist’s feeling that he is unseen and misunderstood.

Even wrong-headed praise is the exception rather than the rule in the artist’s search for recognition. More often than not your recognition will consist of criticism, not praise. You may be criticized for not attempting work you have no desire to attempt, for pandering to mass taste, for working too exotically or too narrowly… You may be attacked in a mixed review that purports to praise you. In short, you may be criticized for everything and anything under the sun.

Can you escape this criticism as you struggle for recognition? No. The journalist Elbert Hubbard said, “To escape criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” … you can’t escape criticism, you can’t tame your critics.

Eric Maisel in A Life in the Arts: Practical Guidance and Inspiration for Creative and performing Artists

Comments are welcome!

Q: When did you start using the sandpaper technique and why (Question from “Arte Realizzata”)

The start of a new pastel-on-sandpaper painting

A: In the late 1980s when I was studying at the Art League School in Alexandria, VA, I enrolled in  a three-day pastel workshop with Albert Handel, an artist known for his southwest landscapes in pastel and oil paint.  I had just begun working with soft pastel and was experimenting with paper.  Handel suggested I try Ersta fine sandpaper.  I did and nearly three decades later, I’ve never used anything else. 

This paper is acid-free and accepts dry media, mainly pastel and charcoal.   It allows me to build up layer upon layer of pigment and blend, without having to use a fixative.  The tooth of the paper almost never gets filled up so it continues to hold pastel.  (On the rare occasion when the tooth DOES fill up, which sometimes happens with problem areas that are difficult to resolve, I take a bristle paintbrush, dust off the unwanted pigment, and start again).  My entire technique – slowly applying soft pastel, blending and creating new colors directly on the paper, making countless corrections and adjustments, rendering minute details, looking for the best and/or most vivid colors – evolved in conjunction with this paper. 

I used to say that if Ersta ever went out of business and stopped making sandpaper, my artist days would be over.  Thankfully, when that DID happen, UArt began making a very similar paper.  I buy it in two sizes – 22″ x 28″ sheets and 56″ wide by 10-yard-long rolls.  The newer version of the rolled paper is actually better than the old, because when I unroll it, it lays flat immediately.  With Ersta I would lay the paper out on the floor for weeks before the curl would give way and it was flat enough to work on.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 445

Artists at work… our documentary film crew!

*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 good friend the writer Charles L. Mee, Jr helped me to recognize the relationship between art and the way societies are structured. He suggested that, as societies develop, it is the artists who articulate the necessary myths that embody our experience of life and provide parameters for ethics and values. Every so often the inherited myths lose their value because they become too small and confined to contain the complexities of the ever-transforming and expanding societies. In that moment new myths are needed to encompass who we are becoming. These new constructs do not eliminate anything already in the mix; rather, they include fresh influences and engender new formations. The new mythologies always include ideas, cultures and people formerly excluded from the previous mythologies. So, deduces Mee, the history of art is the history of inclusion.

I believe that the new mythologies will be created and articulated in art, in literature, painting and poetry. It is the artists who will create a livable future through their ability to articulate in the face of flux and change.

Anne Bogart in A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theater

Comments are welcome!

Q: How long did it take you to discover the properties of pastel? (Liliana Mileo via facebook.com/BarbaraRachko/)

A charcoal self-portrait from 1988

A charcoal self-portrait from 1988

A:  After I moved to Alexandria, Virginia in the mid-1980s, I began taking classes at The Art League School.  I was extremely unhappy with my career as a Navy Lieutenant.  I worked as a computer analyst for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon and was searching for something more meaningful to do with my life.

I began with a basic drawing class and liked it.  I enrolled in more classes and decided to spend two years working exclusively in black and white media, such as charcoal and graphite, before advancing to color.  Fortunately, early on I found an excellent teacher in Lisa Semerad.  I remain deeply grateful for the strong foundational drawing skills she imparted to me during this period.

After two years I tried water color and soon discovered it was not for me, a perfectionist who needs to refine my work.  Then I tried etching and found it extremely tedious, the antithesis of instant gratification.

Finally I began studying soft pastel with Diane Tesler, another gifted teacher, and fell in love with this medium!  At The Art League School I also completed a one-week workshop with Albert Handell, who introduced me to the archival sandpaper that I have been using ever since.

While I fell in love with pastel three decades ago, I continue to learn about its unique properties.  I am pushing pastel to new heights as my techniques continually evolve.  This is a lifetime journey of learning.  I hope to never know all there is to know.

Comments are welcome!  Ask anything and I may answer in a future blog post, as you’ve seen here with Liliana’s question.

 

Pearls from artists* # 370

Barbara at work on "The Orator.” Photo: Maria Cox

Barbara at work on “The Orator.” Photo: Maria Cox

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

Nothing determines your creative life more than doing it.  This is so obvious and fundamental, yet how much energy is wasted on speculation, worry, and doubt without the relief of action.  “Success is 90 percent just showing up.”  I can’t tell you the number of problems that are solved with this one simple principle, because when you start, it leads to something, anything.  And when you have something tangible in front of you, then you can react to it and amend it.  And that will lead to something else.  In the book, In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman Jr., which looked at companies in America that excelled at what they did, one of the guiding principles was, “Do it, mend it, fix it.”

Ian Roberts in Creative Authenticity:  16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 363

Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India

Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India

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

Beauty seems to need quiet and take patience, both to create it and to experience it.

If our minds are filled with a long and urgent “to do” list, we are not likely to slow down enough to appreciate anything but the next line we can draw through our never-ending list.  Yet every now and again something stops us. It arrests our constant external activity and search.  We can be stopped by the way the light filters through the trees in our backyard or hits a bowl of fruit on our kitchen table.  And we are silenced, even if momentarily.  We can be stopped by cave paintings as easily as by a thirteenth-century tapestry or a fifteenth-century Italian painting.  We may be impressed by the craft of the artist, but almost always what moves us most deeply is the beauty that is expressed by the craft.

In the face of beauty, we are silenced because beauty expresses silence.  In lavishing attention on the object of the artwork, the consciousness of the artist can touch something divine, some transcendental quality, and that transcendent element now resides in the artwork.  How do we know it?  We feel it. We experience it.  Our heart responds to that sublime quality the artist infused into the work.

Ian Roberts in Creative Authenticity:  16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision

Comments are welcome!

Q: Where did you grow up and what were some early milestones or experiences that contributed to you becoming an artist later in life?

“The Sleeping Gypsy,” Henri Rousseau, oil on canvas, 1897

“The Sleeping Gypsy,” Henri Rousseau, oil on canvas, 1897

A:  I grew up in a blue collar family in Clifton, New Jersey, a suburb about fifteen miles west of Manhattan. My father was a television repairman for RCA. My mother stayed home to raise my sister and me (at the time I had only one sister, Denise; my sister Michele was born much later).  My parents were both first-generation Americans and no one in my extended family had gone to college yet. I was a smart kid who showed some artistic talent in kindergarten and earlier.  I remember copying the Sunday comics, which in those days appeared in all the newspapers, and drawing small still lifes I arranged for myself. I have always been able to draw anything, as long as I can see it. 

Denise, a cousin, and I enrolled in Saturday morning “art classes” at the studio of a painter named Frances Hulmes in Rutherford, NJ.  I was about 6 years old. I continued the classes for 8 years and became a fairly adept oil painter. Since we lived so close to New York City, my mother often took us to museums, particularly to the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Natural History.  Like so many young girls, I fell in love with Rousseau’s “The Sleeping Gypsy” and was astonished by Picasso’s “Guernica” when it was on long-term loan to MoMA. I have fond memories of studying the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History (they are still my favorite part of the museum). As far as I know, there were no artists in my family so, unfortunately, I had no role models.  At the age of 14 my father decided that art was not a serious pursuit – declaring, it is “a hobby, not a profession” – and abruptly stopped paying for my Saturday morning lessons. With no financial or moral support to pursue art, I turned my attention to other interests, letting my artistic abilities go dormant.

Comments are welcome!

 

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