Blog Archives

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: 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: 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* # 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!

Q: What makes you drawn to face masks?

“Raconteur,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58” x 38,” in progress

A: For me a mask is so much more than a mask.  It is almost a living thing with its own soul and with a unique history.  I always wonder, who created this mask?  For what purpose?  Where has it been?  What stories would it tell if it could?  In my current “Bolivianos” series I feel as though I am creating portraits of living, or perhaps once living, beings.

In a way the masks are a pretext for a return to my early days as an artist.  When I resigned my Naval commission to pursue art full time, I started out as a photo-realist portrait painter.  The twist is that this time I do not have to satisfy a client’s request to make my subjects look younger or more handsome.  I am joyfully free to respond only to the needs of the pastel painting before me on the easel. 

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 473

Quemado, NM

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

… slow art arose in the later eighteenth century when two massive cultural changes converged, changes that have grown more acute ever since. First: acceleration, as capitalism and advances in technology quickened the pace of everyday life in unprecedented ways. It’s no coincidence that Harmut Rosa links the origin of modernity to the quickening movement of money, vehicles, and communication. The pressures of acceleration created the need for psychological breathers or timeouts. But second, and simultaneously: Western society grew more and more secularized. As a result, occasions to slow one’s tempo became harder to access – like devotional practices requiring viewers to focus intensely on single works over long periods of time. Hence an increased need met decreased opportunities to address that need. Slow art came to supplement older sacred practices by creating social spaces for getting off the train. In sum, as culture sped up and sacred aesthetic practices waned, slow art came to satisfy our need for downtime by producing works that require sustained attention in order to experience them.

Arden Reed in Slow Art: The Experience of Looking, Sacred Images to James Turrell

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* # 448

Museum of Ethnography and Folklore, La Paz, Bolivia
Museum of Ethnography and Folklore, 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.

Memory plays a huge role in the artistic process. Every time you stage a play, you are embodying a memory. Human beings are stimulated to tell stories from the experience of remembering an incident or a person. The act of expressing what is remembered is actually, according to the philosopher Richard Rorty, an act of re-description. In redescribing something, new myths are created. Rorty suggests that there is no objective reality, no Platonic ideal. We create truths by describing, or re-describing, our beliefs and observations. Our task, and the task of every artist and scientist, is to redescribe our inherited assumptions and invented fictions in order to create new paradigms for the future.

Anne Bogart in A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theater

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 435

Barbara’s Studio

Barbara’s Studio

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

Most artists are not as estranged from their fellow human beings, as bereft of reasons for existing, or as alienated from the common values and enthusiasms of the world as are the outsider characters created by existential writers like Kafka, Camus, and Sartre.  But insofar as artists do regularly feel different from other people, a differentness experienced both as a sense of oddness and a sense of specialness, they identify with the outsider’s concerns and come to the interpersonal moment in guarded or distant fashion.

In part, artists are outsiders because of the personal mythology they possess.  This mythology is a blend of beliefs about the importance of the individual, the responsibility of the artist as a maker of culture and a witness to the truth, and the ordained separateness of the artist.  Artists often stand apart on principle, like Napoleonic figures perched on a hill overlooking the battle.

The artist may also find himself [sic] speechless in public.  Around him people chat, but he has little to offer.  Too much of what he knows and feels has gone directly into his art and too much has been revealed to him in solitude – infinitely more than he can share in casual conversation.     

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

Comments are welcome!

Q: What has been your biggest challenge so far?

"Us and Them," soft pastel on sandpaper, 47" x 38" image, 60" x 50" framed

“Us and Them,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 47″ x 38″ image, 60″ x 50″ framed

A:  On September 11, 2001, my husband Bryan, a high-ranking federal government employee, a brilliant economist (with an IQ of 180 he is the smartest man I have ever known) and a budget analyst at the Pentagon, was en route to Monterrey, CA to give his monthly guest lecture for an economics class at the Naval Postgraduate College. He had the horrible misfortune of flying out of Dulles Airport and boarding the plane that was high-jacked and crashed into the Pentagon, killing 189 people. Losing Bryan was the biggest shock of my life and devastating in every possible way.

The following summer I was ready to – I HAD to – get back to work. Learning about photography and pastel painting became avenues to my well-being. I use reference photos for my paintings, so my first challenge was to learn how to use Bryan’s 4 x 5 view camera (Bryan always took these reference photos for me).

In July 2002 I enrolled in a one-week view camera workshop at the International Center of Photography in New York. Much to my surprise, I had already acquired substantial technical knowledge from watching Bryan. Still, after the initial workshop, I threw myself into this new medium and continued studying photography at ICP for several years. I began with Photography I and enrolled in many more classes until I gradually learned how to use Bryan’s extensive camera collection, to properly light my setups, and to print large chromogenic photographs in a darkroom.

In October 2009 it was very gratifying to have my first solo photography exhibition with HP Garcia in New York. Please see http://barbararachko.art/images/PDFS/ BarbaraRachko-HPGargia.pdf. I vividly remember tearing up at the opening as I imagined Bryan looking down at me with his beautiful smile, beaming as he surely would have, so proud of me for having become a respected photographer.

Continuing to make art had seemed an impossibility after Bryan’s death. However, the first large pastel painting that I created using a self-made reference photograph proved my life’s work could continue. The title of that painting, “She Embraced It and Grew Stronger,” is certainly autobiographical. “She” is me, and “it” means continuing on without Bryan and living life for both of us.

Comments are welcome!

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