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Pearls from artists* # 359

Matador mask, La Paz, Bolivia

Matador mask, La Paz, Bolivia

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

The Matador, with a black mask made of plaster and stucco, jumps around and teases the pair of bulls.  He wears an embroidered cloth on his chest that is draped over his shoulder to cover part of his back.  In his hand he carries a saber that was cut out of a barrel or a tin oil can, the way I saw my father and my grandfather make.  It has little bells made of beer and other bottle caps, that are flattened into rattles.  The matador also wears a colorful diamond shaped montera (cap).

“An Aymara Vision of the Altiplano Masks,” texts and photos by Sixto Choque in Masks of the Bolivian Andes, Editorial  Quipos and Banco Mercantil

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Pearls from artists* # 349

Ahmedabad, India

Ahmedabad, India

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

India presents to the visitor an overwhelmingly visual impression.  It is beautiful, colorful, sensuous.  It is captivating and intriguing, repugnant and puzzling.  It combines the intimacy and familiarity of English four o’clock tea with the dazzling foreignness of carpisoned elephants or vast crowds bathing in the Ganga during an eclipse.  India’s display of multi-armed images, it’s processions and pilgrimages, it’s beggars and kings, it’s street life and markets, it’s diversity of peoples – all appear to the eye in a kaleidoscope of images.  Much that is removed from public view in the modern West and taken into the privacy of rest homes, asylums, and institutions is open and visible in the life of an Indian city or village.  The elderly, the infirm, the dead awaiting cremation – these sights, while they may have been expunged from the childhood palace of the Buddha, are not isolated from the public eye in India.  Rather, they are present daily in the visible world in which Hindus, and those who visit India, move in the course of ordinary activities. In India, one sees everything.  One sees people at work and at prayer; one sees plump, well-endowed merchants, simple renouncers, fraudulent “holy” men, frail widows, and emaciated lepers; one sees the festival procession, the marriage procession, and the funeral procession.  Whatever Hindus affirm of the meaning of life, death, and suffering, they affirm with their eyes wide open.

Diana L. Eck in Darsan:  Seeing the Diving Image in India

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?

West 29th Street studio

West 29th Street studio

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!     

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your process? What happens before you even begin a pastel painting?

Barbara in Bali (far right)

Barbara in Bali (far right)

A:  My process is extremely slow and labor-intensive. 

First, there is foreign travel – often to Mexico, Guatemala or someplace in Asia – to find the cultural objects – masks, carved wooden animals, paper mâché figures, and toys – that are my subject matter.  I search the local markets, bazaars, and mask shops for these folk art objects. I look for things that are old, that look like they have a history, and were probably used in religious festivals of some kind. Typically, they are colorful, one-of-a- kind objects that have lots of inherent personality. How they enter my life and how I get them back to my New York studio is an important part of my art-making practice. 

My working methods have changed dramatically over the nearly thirty years that I have been an artist. My current process is a much simplified version of how I used to work.  As I pared down my imagery in the current series, “Black Paintings,” my creative process quite naturally pared down, too. 

One constant is that I have always worked in series with each pastel painting leading quite naturally to the next.  Another is that I always set up a scene, plan exactly how to light and photograph it, and work with a 20″ x 24″ photograph as the primary reference material. 

In the setups I look for eye-catching compositions and interesting colors, patterns, and shadows.  Sometimes I make up a story about the interaction that is occurring between the “actors,” as I call them.

In the “Domestic Threats” series I photographed the scene with a 4″ x 5″ Toyo Omega view camera.  In my “Gods and Monsters” series I shot rolls of 220 film using a Mamiya 6. I still like to use an old analog camera for fine art work, although I have been rethinking this practice.   

Nowadays the first step is to decide which photo I want to make into a painting (currently I have a backlog of photographs to choose from) and to order a 19 1/2″ x 19 1/2″ image (my Mamiya 6 shoots square images) printed on 20″ x 24″ paper.  They recently closed, but I used to have the prints made at Manhattan Photo on West 20th Street in New York.  Now I go to Duggal.  Typically I have in mind the next two or three paintings that I want to create.

Once I have the reference photograph in hand, I make a preliminary tonal charcoal sketch on a piece of white drawing paper.  The sketch helps me think about how to proceed and points out potential problem areas ahead. 

Only then am I ready to start actually making the painting. 

Comments are welcome!    

Q: You recently spent several weeks in Sri Lanka. After experiencing so many new sights and sounds, is it difficult to get back to work in your studio?

Cave temple at Natha Devale, Sri Lanka

Cave temple at Natha Devale, Sri Lanka

A:  It definitely requires some readjustment and a period –  maybe a day or two – during which I feel removed from the painting on my easel and need time to become reacquainted with it.  It’s a time to refocus, stay put, and reflect.  For weeks I’ve led an action-packed life, exploring a fascinating country on the other side of the world.  Over time, all of the experiences I’ve had will stay with me, or not, and in some ways begin to influence my work. 

It’s funny.  I often think of my studio as a cave.  It’s a rather dark place and sometimes I have to force myself to go.  In Sri Lanka I saw many ancient Buddhist cave temples, wild and vibrant, with colorful paintings on the walls and ceilings, chock full of statues of Buddha and other deities.  My travels have given me a new appreciation of the riches to be found in caves of all sorts, including (especially) my own studio!    

Comments are welcome!         

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