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Pearls from artists* # 462

With 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.

It seems contradictory to call an artist both shy and conceited, introverted and extraverted, empathic and self-centered, highly independent and hungry for community – until we realize that all of these qualities can be dynamically present in one and the same person.

Indeed, this dynamism regularly perplexes and buffets the artist. He may begin to consider himself crazy for longing to perform even though public performance frightens him, or neurotic for feeling competent at the piano but incompetent in the world. He may come to possess the vain hope that he can live quietly, like other people, his personality statically integrated in some fashion, and then feel like a failure when the contradictory forces at play in him prevent him from feeling relaxed even for a minute. Once he realizes, however, that this puzzling contradiction is his personality, he is better able to accept himslef and to understand his motives and actions.

Eric Maisel in “A Life in the Arts: Practical Guidance and Inspiration for Creative and Performing Artists”

Comments are welcome!

Q: How do you work and approach your subject? (Question from “Arts Illustrated”)

At work
At work

A: Undoubtedly, I could not make my work without UART sandpaper since my entire pastel technique evolved around it.  I use 400 0r 500 grit.  My favorite thing about it is its ‘tooth’ (i.e. texture or roughness).  

Over the many months I spend creating a pastel painting, I build layer upon layer of soft pastel.  Because the paper I use is relatively “toothy,” it accepts all of the pastel the painting needs.  And as many people know, I own and use thousands of soft pastels!

Many layers of soft pastel and several months of studio time go into creating each painting.  My self-invented technique is analogous to the glazing techniques used by the Old Masters, who slowly built up layers of thin oil paint to achieve a high degree of finish.  Colors were not only mixed physically, but optically.  

Similarly, I gradually build up layers of soft pastel, as many as thirty, to create a pastel painting.  After applying a color, I blend it with my fingers and push it into the sandpaper’s tooth.  It mixes with the color beneath to create a new color, continually adding richness, saturation, and intensity to the piece.  By the time a pastel painting is finished, the colors are bold, vibrant, and exciting.

From the beginning in the 1980s I used photographs as reference material and my late husband, Bryan, would shoot 4” x 5” negatives of my elaborate setups with his Toyo-Omega view camera. In those days I rarely picked up a camera except when we were traveling. After Bryan was killed on 9/11, I inherited his extensive camera collection – old Nikons, Leicas, Graphlex cameras, etc. – and I wanted to learn how to use them. In 2002 I enrolled in a series of photography courses (about 10 over 4 years) at the International Center of Photography in New York. I learned how to use all of Bryan’s cameras and how to make my own big color prints in the darkroom.

Along the way I discovered that the sense of composition, form, and color I developed over many years as a painter translated well into photography. The camera was just another medium with which to express my ideas. Astonishingly, in 2009 I had my first solo photography exhibition in New York.

It’s wonderful to be both a painter and a photographer. Pastel painting will always be my first love, but photography lets me explore ideas much faster than I ever could as a painter. Paintings take months of work. To me, photographs – from the initial impulse to hanging a framed print on the wall – are instant gratification.

For several years I have been using my iPad Pro to capture thousands of travel photographs.  Most recently, I visited Gujarat and Rajasthan in India. I have never been inclined to use a sketchbook so composing photos on my iPad keeps my eye sharp while I’m halfway around the world, far from my studio practice.

My blog, “Barbara Rachko’s Colored Dust,” continues to be a crucial part of my overall art practice.  Blogging twice a week forces me to think deeply about my work and to explain it clearly to others.  The process has helped me develop a better understanding about why I make art and, I like to think, has helped me to become a better writer.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 442

Working on “Raconteur”
Working on “Raconteur”

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

Alexander Pope identified a central function of poetry as taking thoughts we experience as half-formed and giving them clear expression: ‘what was often thought, but ne’er so well expressed.’ In other words, a fugitive part of our own experience, is taken up, edited, and returned to us better than it was before, so that we feel, at last, that we know ourselves more clearly.

Alain de Botton and John Armstrong in Art as Therapy

Comments are welcome!

Q: What inspires you?

On Lake Titicaca in Bolivia

A: I love to travel and the more remote the destination the better! My current pastel painting series is based on a 2017 trip to Bolivia that continues to inspire me. More info about this work is at https://barbararachko.art/en/paintings/bolivianos

Also, I find the medium of soft pastel to be more fascinating now than ever. There is still so much to learn as I challenge myself to do more with it and to become a better artist.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 411

On top of an unexcavated pyramid, Veracruz, Mexico

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

… it reasserts that U.S. artists have learned and borrowed from Mexican traditions and, above all, that people of goodwill in both countries share in the belief that art unites, it doesn’t divide; it can be utilized to attack inequity and exploitation of the past and present but it also expresses hope and yearning for a better existence than can be realized in the present. 

Vida Americana:  Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925 – 1945, edited by Barbara Haskell

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Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I’m slowly working on a small, 20” x 26,” pastel painting.  The tentative title is “Majordomo,” although I’m searching for something better.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 371

 

“Poseur,” Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 58” x 38” at the framer

“Poseur,” Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 58” x 38” at the framer

* 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 you look at the work of an artist over a lifetime there is always transformation.  Some hit a lively pace early on and then seem to lose it later.  Others find that place progressively throughout their life; others still find it late.  But regardless, they are all learning to isolate the poetic within them. That focus on the poetic in our own work increases our appreciation of the beauty around us, increases our growth, and increases our divine connection.

One thing you see in many artists’ work is that as they continue over the decades to translate their experience of the poetic into form, they learn to communicate better.  They strip away all the extraneous stuff and artistic baggage they had.  They say more with less.

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

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 344

Untitled, c-print, 24 x 24," edition of 5

Untitled, c-print, 24 x 24,” edition of 5

*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 live in a most remarkable world, thick with mysteries.  It all called to mind the British physicist Sir Arthur Eddington’s memorable explanation of how the universe works:  “Something unknown is doing we don’t know what.”

But the best part is:  I don’t need to know what.

All I know for certain is that this is how I want to spend my life – collaborating to the best of my ability with forces of inspiration that I can neither see, nor prove, nor command, nor understand.

It’s a strange line of work, admittedly.

I cannot think of a better way to pass my days.

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear

Comments are welcome!

 

Q: What do you see when you look back at your early efforts?

"Myth Meets Dream," soft pastel on sandpaper, 47" x 38,” 1993

“Myth Meets Dream,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 47″ x 38,” 1993

A:  I see continuity in subject matter and in medium, surely.  For thirty-three years I have been inspired by foreign travel and research.  In addition, I remain devoted to pushing the limits of what soft pastel can do and to promoting its merits as a fine art medium.

Here and there I see details I would render differently now; not exactly mistakes, but things that maybe could be done better.  Fortunately, I think, all of my work is framed behind glass or plexiglas, making it extremely difficult to attempt revisions.  

Perhaps most important of all, I see the long personal road that has advanced my work to its present state.  Each gain has been hard-fought.  

Comments are welcome!

Q: What is more important to you, the subject of the painting or the way it is executed?

"Sam and Bobo,"soft pastel on sandpaper, 36" x 31", 1989

“Sam and Bobo,”soft pastel on sandpaper, 36″ x 31”, 1989

A:  In a sense my subject matter – folk art, masks, carved wooden animals, papier mâché figures, toys – chose me.  With it I have complete freedom to experiment with color, pattern, design, and other formal properties.  In other words, although I am a representational artist, I can do whatever I want since the depicted objects need not look like real things.  Execution is everything now.

This was not always the case.  I started out in the 1980s as a traditional photorealist, except I worked in pastel on sandpaper.  (For example, see the detail in Sam’s sweater above).  As I slowly learned and mastered my craft, depicting three-dimensional people and objects hyper-realistically in two dimensions on a piece of sandpaper was thrilling… until one day it wasn’t.  

My personal brand of photorealism became too easy, too limiting, too repetitive, and SO boring to execute!  In 1989 I had at last extricated myself from a dull career as a Naval officer working in Virginia at the Pentagon.  Then after much planning, in 1997 I was a full-time professional artist working in New York.  

Certainly I was not going to throw away this opportunity by making boring photorealist art.  I wanted to do so much more as an artist:  to experiment with techniques, with composition, to see what I could make pastel do, to let my imagination play a larger role in the paintings I made. I was ready to devote the time and do whatever it took to push my art further.

After spending the early creative years perfecting my technical skills, I built on what I had learned.  I began breaking rules – slowly at first – in order to push myself onward.  And I continue to do so, never knowing what’s next.  Hopefully, in 2018 my art is richer for it.

Comments are welcome!

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