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Pearls from artists* # 525

“The Enigma,” Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 26″ x 20″ Image, 35″ x 28.5″ Framed

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

… this reflects the inner necessity of the arts, the creative spirit’s determination to make something that can stand on its own, precisely because it’s rooted in rules, systems, and processes that are immune to the vagaries of politics, society, and day-to-day life. It’s the discipline of art that frees the artist to go public with the most private thoughts and feelings. No matter how the world encroaches on the artist, the artist in the act of creation must stand firm in the knowledge that art has its own laws and logic. These are the fundamentals of the creative vocation.

Jed Perl in Authority and Freedom: A Defense of the Arts

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Pearls from artists* # 520

“Keeper of the Secret,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 47″ x 38″ image, 60″ x 50″ framed

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

Ondaatje: Do you think success and failure can distort the lessons an artist is able to learn?

Murch: There’s that wonderful line of Rilke’s, “The point of life is to fail at greater and greater things.” Recognizing that all of our achievements are doomed, in one sense – the earth will be consumed by the sun in a billion years or so – but in another sense the purpose of our journey is to go farther each time. So you’re trying things out in every film you make, with the potential of failure. I think we’re always failing, in Rilke’s sense – we know there’s more potential that we haven’t realized. But because we’re trying, we develop more and more talent, or muscles, or strategies to improve, each time.

In The Conversation: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje

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Q: To what extent will the world of art change in the post-COVID period – both in terms of what is created and also the business of art? (Question from artamour)

Barbara’s Studio

A: We all still wonder how the art world will change post-COVID. (Will there ever be a time when we can say we are post-COVID?). I know that I will continue refining and developing my art practice and seeking out new business opportunities.  I have been an artist long enough to know that I will always follow my own path (each pastel painting points to the next one) regardless of what is going on in the larger world. How could I not do so? In large part due to an extensive social media program carried out by my two able assistants, the COVID period has been a personal boon.  I completed a short documentary film about my life and work. It is in post-production now. I gained representation with three new international galleries. My blog is attracting approximately 1,000 – 2,000 new subscribers every month and I continue receiving requests for interviews from around the world.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What are your current aspirations?

With “Impresario,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 70″ x 50″ framed

A: During the pandemic I was fortunate to have added three international galleries – in London, New Delhi, and Sweden – to the growing list of galleries that represent my work. (This is in addition to a gallery in Naples, FL that I have been working with for several years). It is extremely gratifying to discover that finally, after 36 years as a devoted and hard-working professional artist, galleries are seeking me out, instead of the other way around. Next I’d like to find a local home gallery in New York with whom to work. This will be the final piece of my business plan… at least for now!

Comments are welcome!

Q: What is your process? (Question from artamour)

Some of Barbara’s pastels

A: For thirty-six years I have worked exclusively in soft pastel on sandpaper.  Pastel, which is pigment and a binder to hold it together, is as close to unadulterated color as an artist can get.  It allows for very saturated color, especially employing the self-invented techniques I have developed and mastered. I believe my “science of color” is unique, completely unlike how any other artist works.  I spend three to four months on each painting, applying pastel and blending the layers together to mix new colors on the paper. 

The acid-free sandpaper support allows the buildup of 25 to 30 layers of pastel as I slowly and meticulously work for hundreds of hours to complete a painting.  The paper is extremely forgiving.  I can change my mind, correct, refine, etc. as much as I want until a painting is the best I can create at that moment in time. 

My techniques for using soft pastel achieve rich velvety textures and exceptionally vibrant color.  Blending with my fingers, I painstakingly apply dozens of layers of pastel onto the sandpaper.  In addition to the thousands of pastels that I have to choose from, I make new colors directly on the paper.  Regardless of size, each pastel painting takes three to four months and hundreds of hours to complete. 

have been devoted to soft pastel from the beginning.  In my blog and in numerous interviews online and elsewhere, I continue to expound on its merits.  For me no other fine art medium comes close. 

My subject matter is unique.  I am drawn to Mexican, Guatemalan, and Bolivian cultural objects—masks, carved wooden animals, papier mâché figures, and toys.  On trips to these countries and elsewhere I frequent local mask shops, markets, and bazaars searching for the figures that will populate my pastel paintings.  How, why, when, and where these objects come into my life is an important part of the creative process.  Each pastel painting is a highly personal blend of reality, fantasy, and autobiography.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Where do you create your art? (Question from artamour)

Barbara’s Studio

A: In April 1997 an opportunity to move to New York City arose and I didn’t look back. By then I was showing in a good 57th Street gallery, Brewster Gallery (they focused exclusively on Latin American Masters so I was in the company of Leonora Carrington, Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera, etc.).  Also, I had managed to find an excellent New York artists/agent, Leah Poller, with whom to collaborate. (Leah and I are still dear friends).

I looked at only one other space before finding my West 29th Street studio and knew instantly it was the one! An old friend of Bryan’s from Cal Tech rented the space next door and he had told us it was available. Initially the studio was a sublet. The lease-holder was a painter headed to northern California to work temporarily for George Lucas at the Lucas Ranch. After several years she decided to stay so I was able to take over the lease. I feel extremely fortunate to have been in my West 29th Street, New York City space now for twenty-five years. In a city where old buildings are knocked down to make way for new ones this is rare.

My studio is an oasis in a chaotic city, a place to make art, to read, and to think. I love to walk in the door every morning and I feel calmer the moment I arrive. It is still my absolute favorite place in New York! Sometimes I think of it as my best creation.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Contemporary art has become very diverse and multidisciplinary in the last few decades. Do you welcome this trend? Is this trend part of your art practice? (Question from artamour)

Barbara’s Studio

A: By definition trends in art come and go and I don’t see how any self-respecting artist can or should pay much attention to them. I continue to do my own thing, refining my soft pastel techniques, following wherever my interests, inspiration, and subject matter lead, all the while striving to become a better artist.   

Comments are welcome!

Q: Foreign travel has long been a significant aspect of your work. What are your views on cultural appropriation?

On Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

A: For more than three decades my inspiration and subject matter have come mainly from international travel to remote parts of the globe. I daresay there is no better education than travel. The result is that I possess a deep love and reverence for people and cultures all over the world. We are all connected by our shared humanity.

I wholeheartedly agree with what Henry Louis Gates eloquently expressed in the NY Times Book Review of October 12, 2021. Additions are mine.

Any teacher, any student, any writer, [any artist] sufficiently attentive and motivated, must be able to engage freely with subjects of their choice. That is not only the essence of learning; it’s the essence of being human.

And

What I owe to my teachers – and to my students – is a shared sense of wonder and awe as we contemplate works of the human imagination across space and time, works created by people who don’t look like us and who, in so many cases, would be astonished that we know their work and their names. Social identities can connect us in multiple and overlapping ways; they are not protected but betrayed when we turn them into silos with sentries. The freedom to write [and make art] can thrive only if we protect the freedom to read – and to learn. And perhaps the first thing to learn, in these storm-battered days, is that we could all do with more humility, and more humanity.

Comments are welcome!

Q: How would you describe the inside of your studio?

Barbara’s Studio

A: My studio is an oasis in a chaotic city, a place to make art, to read, and to think. I love to walk in the door every morning because it is my absolute favorite place in New York! Even after thirty-six years, I still find the entire process of making a pastel painting completely engaging. I try to push my pastel techniques further every time I work in the studio.

There’s one more thing about my studio: I consider it my best creation because it’s a physical environment that anyone can walk into and occupy, as compared to my artworks, which are 2D paintings hanging flat on a wall.  It has taken 25 years to get it the way it is now.  I believe my studio is the best reflection of my growth as an artist.  It changes and evolves as I change over the decades.

Comments are welcome!

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