A: The Black Paintings series of pastel-on-sandpaper paintings grew directly from an earlier series, Domestic Threats. While both use cultural objects as surrogates for human beings acting in mysterious, highly-charged narratives, in the Black Paintings I replaced all background details of my actual setup (furniture, rugs, etc.) with lush black pastel. In this work the ‘actors’ are front and center.
While traveling in Bolivia two years ago, 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. I immediately knew I had stumbled upon a gift. So far I have completed nine pastel paintings in the Bolivianos series. One is awaiting finishing touches, one is in progress now, and I am planning the next one.
All of my pastel paintings are an example of a style called “contemporary conceptual realism” in which things are not quite as innocent as they seem. In this sense each painting is a kind of Trojan horse. There is plenty of backstory to my images, although I usually prefer not to over-explain them. Some mystery must always remain in art.
The world I depict is that of the imagination and this realm owes little debt to the natural world. I recently gave an art talk where I was reminded how fascinating it is to learn how others respond to my work. As New York art critic Gerrit Henry once remarked, “What we bring to a Rachko… we get back, bountifully.”
Comments are welcome!
Q: Another interesting series of yours that has impressed me is your recent “Black Paintings.” The pieces in this series are darker than the ones in “Domestic Threats.” You create an effective mix between the dark background and the few bright tones, which establish such a synergy rather than a contrast, and all the dark creates a prelude to light. It seems to reveal such a struggle, a deep tension, and intense emotions. Any comments on your choice of palette and how it has changed over time?
A: That is a great question!
You are correct that my palette has darkened. It’s partly from having lived in New York for so long. This is a generally dark city. We famously dress in black and the city in winter is mainly greys and browns.
Also, the “Black Paintings” are definitely post-9/11 work. My husband, Bryan, was tragically killed onboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. Losing Bryan was the biggest shock I ever have had to endure, made even harder because it came just 87 days after we had married. We had been together for 14 ½ years and in September 2001 were happier than we had ever been. He was killed so horribly and so senselessly. Post 9/11 was an extremely difficult, dark, and lonely time.
In the summer of 2002 I resumed making art, continuing to make “Domestic Threats” paintings. That series ran its course and ended in 2007. Around then I was feeling happier and had come to better terms with losing Bryan (it’s something I will never get over but dealing with loss does get easier with time). When I created the first “Black Paintings” I consciously viewed the background as literally, the very dark place that I was emerging from, exactly like the figures emerging in these paintings. The figures themselves are wildly colorful and full of life, so to speak, but that black background is always there.
Comments are welcome!
A: At its core all art is communication. I personally believe that without the component of communication, there is no art. The expression of human creative skill and imagination becomes art when it is appreciated for its beauty, complexity, emotional power, evocativeness, etc. A sympathetic and understanding audience is essential.
Why might artists fail to communicate? Perhaps they haven’t mastered their medium sufficiently to elicit a reaction from the viewer. Perhaps the viewer lacks the necessary artistic, cultural, or intellectual background to understand and appreciate what the artist is communicating. Maybe the viewer is distracted or preoccupied and not looking or thinking deeply enough. There are many reasons.
Comments are welcome!
A: During the several months that I work on a pastel painting, I search for the best, most eye-popping colors, as I build up and blend together as many as 25 to 30 layers of pigment. I am able to complete some areas, like the background, fairly easily – maybe with six or seven layers – but the more realistic parts take more applications because I am adding details. Details always take time to perfect. No matter how many pastel layers I apply, however, I never use fixatives. It is difficult to see this in reproductions of my work, but the finished surfaces achieve a texture akin to velvet. My technique involves blending each layer with my fingers, pushing pastel deep into the tooth of the sandpaper. The paper holds plenty of pigment and because the pastel doesn’t flake off, there is no need for fixatives.
I consider a given painting complete when it is as good as I can make it, when adding or subtracting anything would diminish what is there. I know my abilities and I know what each individual stick of pastel can do. I continually try to push myself and my materials to their limits.
Comments are welcome.