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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!

Pearls from artists* # 513

At Riverfront Art Gallery, Yonkers, NY

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

… you will never be able to create anything interesting out of your life if you don’t believe that you’re entitled to at least try. Creative entitlement doesn’t mean behaving like a princess or acting as though the world owes you anything whatsoever. No, creative entitlement simply means believing that you are allowed to be here, and that – merely by being here – you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.

The poet David Whyte calls this sense of creative entitlement “the arrogance of belonging,” and claims that it is an absolutely vital privilege to cultivate if you wish to interact more vividly with life. Without this arrogance of belonging, you will never be able to take any creative risks whatsoever. Without it, you will never push yourself out of the suffocating insulation of personal safety into the frontiers of the beautiful and the unexpected.

The arrogance of belonging is not about egotism or self-absorption. In a strange way, it’s the opposite; it is a divine force that will actually take you out of yourself and allow you to engage more fully with life. Because often what keeps you from creative living is your self-absorption (your self-doubt, your self-disgust, your self-judgment, your crushing sense of self-protection). The arrogance of belonging pulls you out of the darkest depths of self-hatred – not by saying “I am the greatest!” but merely saying “I am here!”

Elizabet Gilbert in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 504

Big Sur sunset Photo: Donald Davis

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

… if a project doesn’t work out, you can always think of it as having been a worthwhile and constructive experiment. You can resist the seductions of grandiosity, blame, and shame. You can support other people in their creative efforts, acknowledge the truth that there’s plenty of room for everyone. You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failure. You can battle your demons (through therapy, recovery, prayer, or humility) instead of battling your gifts – in part by realizing that your demons were never the ones doing the work, anyhow. You can believe that you are neither a slave to inspiration nor its master, but something far more interesting – its partner – and that the two of you are working together toward something intriguing and worthwhile. You can live a long life, moving and doing really cool things the entire time. You might earn a living with your pursuits or you might not, but you can recognize that this is not really the point. And at the end of your days, you can thank creativity for having blessed you with a charmed, interesting, passionate existence.

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

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!

Q: What art project(s) are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this? (Question from artamour)  

Source material for “The Champ”
Source material for “The Champ” (my first “Bolivianos” pastel painting) and “Avenger”

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!

Pearls from artists* # 496

“Raconteur,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″ Image, 70″ 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.

In reading a novel, any novel, we have to know that the whole thing is nonsense, and then, while reading, believe every word of it. Finally, when we’re done with it, we may find – if it’s a good novel – that we’re a bit different from what we were before we read it, that we have been changed a little bit, as if by having met a new face, crossed a street we never crossed before. But it’s very hard to say just what we’ve learned, how we were changed.

The artist deals with what cannot be said in words.

The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words.

Author’s Note, Ursula K. LeGuin in The Left Hand of Darkness

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 495

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

Murch: …There’s a wonderful quotation from Goethe – he must have been frustrated at some point about the difficulty of communication. He said, “Utterly futile to try to change, by writing, someone’s fixed inclination. You will only succeed in confirming him in his opinion, or, if he has none, drenching him in yours.”

Ondaatje: There’s a poet in Vancouver who said, “I’ll see it when I believe it.”

M: Exactly. I’m sure Goethe didn’t think that way most of the time, otherwise he wouldn’t have kept on writing. He was talking in black-and-white terms: Agree with me or not! The richest zone of communication is the grey area… where the reader is somewhat receptive to what the author writes but also brings along his own images, and ideas, which in a creative way do violence to the author’s vision and ideas. A synergy results from what the writer presents and what the reader brings. That communication, initially present in neither the sender nor the receiver, is greater than the message of the writer alone or the thoughts of the reader alone.

It’s similar to what happens with human sight. Your left eye sees one thing and your right eye sees something else, a slightly different perspective. They’re so close and yet different enough that when the mind tries to see both simultaneously, to resolve their contradictions, the only way it can do so is to create a third concept, an arena in which both perspectives can exist: three-dimensional space. This “space” doesn’t exist in either of the images – each eye alone sees a flat, two-dimensional view of the world – but space, as we perceive it, is created in the mind’s attempt to resolve the different images it is receiving from the left and the right eye.

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

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 470

Richard Deutsch, “Against the Day,” 2007, granite, at the Kreeger Museum, Washington, DC

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

Find something that is really meaningful to you – that’s the most important thing at the end of the day. Even if everything goes well, there are still those moments when you see through it all. Once you see through the fame, money, and social life and ask yourself, “What is this all about? What does it mean to me?,” it’s great if you can see your work clearly and what you see is important to you.

That same thing goes on the other side. When you wonder why you go through all this hell and you’re struggling, at least you see that you really enjoy what you do, you are fulfilled by what you make, and you believe in it.

Charles Long, artist, Mount Baldy, CA, in Art/Work: Everything You Need to Know (And Do) As You Pursue Your Art Career by Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 469

"Epiphany," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58"
“Epiphany,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″

*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 feel artists are at the cutting edge of everything created by humans in our society. I would love for artists, young and old, to remember that for the Art World to exist, the first thing that is necessary is art. No gallerist, museum director, preparatory, or museum guard would have a job without an artwork having been created.

Without remembering this, artists can lose sight of their power and worth. We begin to believe that the Art World came first and that we need to change, appropriate, adjust, or edit ourselves and our work to fit into this world. This does not need to happen, and should not happen.

Stephanie Diamond, artist, New York, NY, in Art/Work: Everything You Need to Know (And Do) As You Pursue Your Art Career by Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 455

New York City

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

You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book (Lady Chatterley, for instance), or you take a trip, or you talk with [someone], and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death.

Some never awaken. They are like the people who go to sleep in the snow and never awaken. But I am not in danger because my home, my garden, my beautiful life do not lull me. I am aware of being in a beautiful prison, from which I can only escape by writing.

Anaïs  Nin in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Volume 3: 1939-1944

Comments are welcome!

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