Q: What art project(s) are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this? (Question from artamour)
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!
A: Generally, I am most interested in exploring Mexico and destinations in Central and South American because they offer endless inspiration to further my work. I’m not exactly certain why this is the case. I DO know that I cannot get enough of travel to points south!
My 2017 trip to Bolivia proved to be crucial for my current pastel painting series. “Bolivianos” is based on an exhibition of Carnival masks encountered at the National Museum of Ethnology and Folklore in La Paz.
I had high hopes of making a return visit – along with a private tour guide – last February. However, since President Moreno resigned last November, much political instability, violence, and turmoil resulted. I would not have felt safe traveling to Oruro to see Carnival celebrations this year.
In the mean time I look forward to traveling to Chile, the Atacama Desert, and Easter Island next winter!
Comnents are welcome!
Q: You had a terrific interview published in the July Issue # 44 of “Art Market.” How did that happen?
A: You know, my business strategy is to get my work onto as many websites as possible in hopes of eventually reaching the right collectors. ArtsRow has not gotten me a sale yet, but wow, what press! The print copy of “Art Market is gorgeous.” I was stunned by the quality of the reproductions, the layout, and the fact that the publisher did not cut any of my 18-page interview!
This is how it happened. I cannot remember if Paula Soito found me or vice versa. Somehow we connected, I sent my work for her ArtsRow website, and shortly after, she asked to interview me for her blog. Paula deeply connected to something in my work or my bio. I may be mistaken, but I do not believe she asks many artists for an interview.
As I do with every interview request, I enthusiastically said, “Yes!” Paula proceeded to ask great questions. I prepared my written answers to her questions as though I were writing an article for “The New York Times,” because once an interview is published, you never know who will read it. And we had no word limits since the interview was being published on her blog, not in print.
So last spring my in-depth interview was published on Paula’s blog. Sometime later she let me know that she had met Dafna Navarro, CEO and Founder of “Art Market,” and was arranging for our interview to be published there. I thought, “Gee, that’s nice,” thinking there’s no way they will publish the whole article. When I received my print copy in the mail I was thrilled! Not only did my interview look great, but it was sandwiched between a piece about an exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum and one at The Whitney Museum of American Art! So, of course, I am sharing it with everyone and encouraging people to purchase a print copy.
Q: You are a multi-talented woman! Tell us about your book, “From Pilot to Painter,” and how writing, for you, compares to painting and photography. Which do you prefer?
A: I am pleased that my eBook FROM PILOT TO PAINTER is available on Amazon and iTunes. It is based on my blog and is part memoir, including my personal loss on 9/11, insights into my creative practice, and intimate reflections on what it’s like to be an artist living in New York City now. The eBook includes new material not found on the blog, plus 25+ reproductions of my vibrant pastel-on-sandpaper paintings, a Foreword by Ann Landi (who writes for ARTnews and The Wall Street Journal), and more.
“Barbara Rachko’s Colored Dust” (the title of my blog) 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 has encouraged me to become a better writer.
From the beginning in the 1980s I used photographs as reference material and 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 two 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.
Comments are welcome!