Q: What art project(s) are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this? (Question from artamour)
A: While traveling in Bolivia in 2017, I visited a mask exhibition at the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz. The masks were presented against black walls, spot-lit, and looked eerily like 3D versions of my Black Paintings, the series I was working on at the time. I immediately knew I had stumbled upon a gift. To date I have completed seventeen pastel paintings in the Bolivianos series. One awaits finishing touches, another is in progress, and I am planning the next two, one large and one small pastel painting.
The following text is from my “Bolivianos” artist’s statement.
“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 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: How do you think living in New York affects your work?
A: Arguably, life in New York provides an artist with direct access to some of the best international art of the past, the present, and probably the future. It is possible to see more art here – both good and bad – than in any other American city.
Just pick up any local magazine and scan the art listings! Our problem is never that there isn’t anything interesting to see or do. It’s “how do we zero in on the most significant local cultural activities, ones that might contribute to making us better artists?”
Certainly a visual artist’s work is consciously and unconsciously influenced not only by what she sees in museums and galleries, but by walking around the city. That’s partly why I am an inveterate walker. I never know what amazing things I am going to see when I leave my apartment.
Although living in New York City is a rich and heady mix for anyone, it is more so for sensitive artists. Artists are virtual sponges, soaking up experiences, processing them, and mysteriously expressing them in our work.
New York lets an artist ponder excellence as we see and experience firsthand what is possible. The best of the best manages to make its way here.
Undoubtedly, my own work is richer for having spent the last eighteen years in this fascinating, wild, and crazy city. For a visual artist New York is an infinitely fascinating place to live.
Comments are welcome!
Q: It is well known that you gain inspiration from foreign travel. Has anyone ever accused you of stealing their culture?
Posted by barbararachkoscoloreddust
The Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca
A: Yes, a few people have done so via comments on Facebook. It came as a shock.
The logic of such an accusation presumes ownership. I don’t believe any person has a claim to owning culture.
Travel is arguably the best education there is. My travels around the world, supplemented with lots of research once I return home, are an important part of my creative process. This is how I develop ideas to forge a way ahead. It is difficult and solitary work.
Every artist is tasked with remaining open to influences – however, wherever, and whenever they appear. Somewhat late in life, travel as a source of inspiration found ME. And it has been a blessing!
People around the world have become fans. Many send messages of thanks saying they are proud that some aspect of their country’s culture has inspired my work. I am always grateful and touched to know this.
Comments are welcome!
Posted in 2019, An Artist's Life, Bolivia, Creative Process, Inspiration, Studio, The West Village, Working methods
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