A: My first (and still the best) New York gallery was Brewster Gallery on West 57th Street in what, in 1996, was the most important gallery district in Manhattan. By joining Brewster, my work was exhibited alongside an impressive list of Latin American painters and sculptors such as Leonora Carrington, Frida Kahlo, Francisco Zuniga, Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera, Francisco Toledo, and more. Brewster was a prestigious and elegant gallery, well-known throughout the Latin American art world for their superb exhibitions and their contributions to art history scholarship.
Since I am not Latina, my work was selected by virtue of its Mexican subject matter and level of craftsmanship. Mia Kim, the owner/director, told me that amidst so many deserving, unrepresented, and talented artists of Latin American heritage, she was sometimes challenged to defend her decision to represent me. Mia’s response was always, “Barbara may not be of Latin American ancestry, but she most assuredly has the soul of a Latina! Her work has obvious affinities to Leonora’s, the other non-Latina that we represent.”
In July of 1996, while I was still living in Virginia, I mailed a slide sheet and reviews to Brewster, thinking that during the slow summer months, perhaps someone might actually LOOK at my material. Then I forgot all about it as Bryan and I headed off on a trip to Mexico. While we were in Mexico City, something told me to check our phone messages at the house in Alexandria. I did so and was floored to hear Mia offer me representation and a two-person show in October. The first time she would even see my work in person would be when I delivered it to the gallery!
In October my “Domestic Threats” pastel paintings were paired with work by Cuban artist, Tomas Esson, for an exhibition called “Monkey Business.” The opening was extremely well-attended by a sophisticated international New York crowd. A highlight was meeting Leonora Carrington, one of my artist heroes of long standing. Afterwards a large group of us were wined and dined at a French restaurant around the corner on West 58th Street. I remember looking at Bryan and saying, “I think I’ve made it!” The next day there was a favorable review in a publication called, “Open Air.” After working in complete obscurity for thirteen years, I was finally on my way.
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* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
A film is a succession of snapshots more or less posed, and it only very rarely gives us the illusion of the unexpected and rare. Ninety films out of a hundred are merely interminable poses. One doesn’t premeditate a photograph like a murder or a work of art.
Photography is rather like those huge American department stores where you find all you want: old master paintings, locomotives, playing cards, tempests, gardens, opera glasses, pretty girls. But steer clear at all costs of the floorwalkers. They are terrible chatterbox bores who have no idea what they are saying.
A photographer for the Daily Mirror said to me: “The most beautiful photos I’ve ever taken were on a day I had forgotten my film.”
That photographer is a poet, perhaps, but quite certainly an imbecile. The photographer’s personality?
Obviously each of them blows his nose in his own fashion. But the most successful photographs are not those that required the most trouble.
That would be just too easy.
Carlo Rim in On the Snapshot
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A: I always did so with my “Domestic Threats” paintings, but not with my current work. As I set up a group of figures to photograph, I would make up a story about what was happening between them: what the Day of the Dead skeleton I bought in Mexico City was saying to the frog/fish/human mask from Guerrero, for example. I was a big kid playing with my favorite toys! The stories were the spark to get me started on a new project, but I usually forgot about them afterwards. They were necessary, yet incidental to my creative process, which is probably why I have never written them down.
Years ago I had the experience of being at one of my solo shows when a group of elementary school children came along with their teacher. The teacher asked them to act out one of the stories in a particular painting. Ever curious about how people relate to my work, I didn’t introduce myself as the creator of the pieces hanging on the walls. I no longer remember the details, but their interpretations soon had me laughing. It is a constant surprise to hear from people encountering my work for the first time what they see in it, especially when those people are young kids with wild imaginations!
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