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Q: When did your love of indigenous artifacts begin? Where have you traveled to collect these focal points of your works and what have those experiences taught you?

Mexico City

Mexico City

A:  As a Christmas present in 1991 my future sister-in-law sent me two brightly painted wooden animal figures from Oaxaca, Mexico. One was a blue polka-dotted winged horse.  The other was a red, white, and black bear-like figure. 

I was enthralled with this gift and the timing was fortuitous because I had been searching for new subject matter to paint. I started asking artist-friends about Oaxaca and learned that it was an important art hub.  Two well-known Mexican painters, Rufino Tamayo and Francisco Toledo, had gotten their start there, as had master photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo.  There was a “Oaxacan School of Painting” (‘school’ meaning a style) and Alvarez Bravo had established a photography school there (the building/institution kind). I began reading everything I could find.  At the time I had only been to Mexico very briefly, in 1975.  

The following autumn, Bryan and I planned a two-week trip to visit Mexico. We timed it to see Day of the Dead celebrations in Oaxaca.  (During my research I had become fascinated with this festival).  We spent one week in Oaxaca followed by one week in Mexico City.  My interest in collecting Mexican folk art was off and running!

Along with busloads of other tourists, we visited several cemeteries in small Oaxacan towns for the “Day of the Dead.” The indigenous people tending their ancestors’ graves were so dignified and so gracious, even with so many mostly-American tourists tromping around on a sacred night, that I couldn’t help being taken with these beautiful people and their beliefs. 

From Oaxaca we traveled to Mexico City, where again I was entranced, but this time by the rich and ancient history.  We visited the National Museum of Anthropology, where I was introduced to the fascinating story of ancient Mesoamerican civilizations; the ancient city of Teotihuacan, which the Aztecs discovered as an abandoned city and then occupied as their own; and the Templo Mayor, the historic center of the Aztec empire, infamous as a place of human sacrifice.  I was astounded!  Why had I never learned in school about Mexico, this highly developed cradle of Western civilization in our own hemisphere, when so much time had been devoted to the cultures of Egypt, Greece, and elsewhere? When I returned home to Virginia I began reading everything I could find about ancient Mexican civilizations, including the Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Aztec, and Maya. The first trip to Mexico opened up a whole new world and was to profoundly influence my future work. I would return there many more times, most recently to study Olmec art and archeology. In subsequent years I have traveled to Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia and other countries in search of inspiration and subject matter to depict in my work.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 352

"Provocateur," soft pastel on sandpaper, 26" x 20"

“Provocateur,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26″ x 20″

*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 jester was certainly a key player in medieval court politics.  His power, however, was commensurate with his acknowledged irrelevance to the state apparatus.  As the eternal outsider, ridiculed or at best ignored by the elite unless he was actually entertaining them, he acquired the right to speak truths that others would speak at their peril.  Yet if the imprudent king simply saw the Fool as a source of amusement, the wise king saw in his antics and wordplay the pattern of the past, present, and future.  In the same way, art is the joker in the hand that was dealt to humanity.  Nothing is easier than dismissing it as a frivolity, and yet those who meet it on its own ground gain access to the hidden facets of their situation.  It is by virtue of its very separateness, its position outside the realm of the useful and the practical, that art reveals the Real.  Paradoxically, art has political value only when appraised outside of any political framework.       

J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice:  A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action 

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 322

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.

Think, dear sir, of the world you carry within you, and call this thinking what you will:  whether it be remembering your own childhood or yearning toward your own future – only be attentive to that which rises up in you and set it above everything that you observe about you.  What goes on in your innermost being is worthy of your whole love; you must somehow keep working at it and not lose too much time and too much courage in clarifying your attitude toward people.       

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, Translation by M.D. Herter Norton

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 204

Barbara's studio with work in progress

Barbara’s studio with work in progress

* 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 has been said that science helps us understand what we can do; the arts and humanities – our culture and values – help us decide what to do.  Studying the arts and humanities develops critical-thinking skills and nimble habits of mind, provides historical and cultural perspective and fosters the ability to analyze, synthesize and communicate.

As author Daniel Pink observed, “The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind – computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers…  The future belongs to a very different kind of mind – creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers.  These people – artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big-picture thinkers – will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.”

David J. Skorton, Director of the Smithsonian Institution in “What Do We Value?” Museum, May/June 2016

Comments are welcome!

Q: What historical art movement do you most identify with?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  I’d have to say that I identify most with surrealism, although my work does not exactly fit into any particular art historical movement.  When I was first finding my way as an artist, I read everything I could find about surrealism in art and in literature.  This research still res0nates deeply and is a tremendous influence on my studio practice.  Elements of surrealism DO fit my work.  Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:

Surrealism is a cultural movement that began in the early 20s and is best known for its visual artworks and writings.  The aim was to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality.”  Artists painted unnerving, illogical scenes with photographic precision, created strange creatures from everyday objects and developed painting techniques that allowed the unconscious to express itself.  

Surrealist works feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur; however, many Surrealist artists and writers regard their work as an expression of the philosophical movement first and foremost, with the works being an artifact.  Leader Andre Breton was explicit in his assertion that Surrealism was, above all, a revolutionary movement.

I hope to expand on this in a future post.

Comments are welcome!            

Pearls from artists* # 188

"Offering," soft pastel on sandpaper, 20" x 26"

“Offering,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 20″ x 26″

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

HM:  In order to create a work of art, you need an artist, an object, the work, and the audience.  Indeed, where there’s no audience, there’s no artist.  Renoir used to say, “No painters in Hamlet.” meaning that on a desert island you wouldn’t paint.

( I confess I am a little surprised.  For my part, I find it difficult to believe that the true artist cannot work without hope.  It seems to me that art is first and foremost an internal necessity, a need to escape from life.  It is true that this is closer to the mystics’ point of view and that the artist, if he does not work directly for his contemporaries, at least looks forward to some future resonance.  Nonetheless, I ask the same question again.)  

PC:  Even a true painter wouldn’t paint on a desert island?

HM:  No…  Painting is a means of communication, a language.  An artist is an exhibitionist.  Take away his spectators and the exhibitionist slinks off with his hands in his pockets.

The audience is the material in which you work.  You don’t see the face of the audience.  It’s huge, an immense mass.  The public is – listen, it’s the man you encounter one fine day, who says, “Monsieur Matisse, I can’t tell you how much I love your picture, the one you exhibited at the salon,” and this man is a clerk who could never spend a red cent on painting.  The public is not the buyer; the public is the sensitive material on which you hope to leave an imprint.

PC:  Through the picture, the audience returns to the source of emotion.

HM:  Yes, and the artist is the actor, the fellow with the wheedling voice who won’t rest until he’s told you his life story.     

Chatting with Henri Matisse:  The Lost 1941 Interview, Henri Matisse with Pierre Courthion, edited by Serge Guilbaut, translated by Chris Miller

Comments are welcome!

Q: As an artist what would you say is your particular ‘superpower’?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  I have been told that it is my unique way of composing images or, in other words, how I deliberately move the viewer’s eye around the picture.  More exactly, it’s the way I combine flat shapes, patterns, angles, forms, modeling, decoration, details, lights, and darks in surprising ways when I make pastel paintings or pick up a camera.   

But I think there’s a secondary, more subtle element:  my understanding of and sensitivity to using color for psychological effect.  The way I use color in pastel paintings is intuitive.  This is something I haven’t reflected on very much yet, but will examine in a future post.

Comments are welcome!    

 

Q: How do you think living in New York affects your work?

Lower Manhattan

Lower Manhattan

A:  Arguably, life in New York provides an artist with direct access to some of the best international art of the past, the present, and probably the future.  It is possible to see more art here – both good and bad – than in any other American city.  

Just pick up any local magazine and scan the art listings!  Our problem is never that there isn’t anything interesting to see or do.  It’s “how do we zero in on the most significant local cultural activities, ones that might contribute to making us better artists?”   

Certainly a visual artist’s work is consciously and unconsciously influenced not only by what she sees in museums and galleries, but by walking around the city.  That’s partly why I am an inveterate walker.  I never know what amazing things I am going to see when I leave my apartment.

Although living in New York City is a rich and heady mix for anyone, it is more so for sensitive artists.  Artists are virtual sponges, soaking up experiences, processing them, and mysteriously expressing them in our work. 

New York lets an artist ponder excellence as we see and experience firsthand what is possible.  The best of the best manages to make its way here.    

Undoubtedly, my own work is richer for having spent the last eighteen years in this fascinating, wild, and crazy city.  For a visual artist New York is an infinitely fascinating place to live.

Comments are welcome! 

Pearls from artists* # 119

"He and She"

“He and She”

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

During the course of the past several years we have experienced a seismic shift in the way the world functions.  Any notion of a certain or stable or inevitable future has vanished.  We are living in what the Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman calls “liquid modernity.”  No one’s life is predictable or secure.  We are confronted with challenges never previously encountered, and these challenges weigh heavily on the role and responsibilities of the individual in society.  It is the onus of each one of us to adjust, shift and adjust again to the constant liquid environment of fluid and unending change.  In the midst of all this reeling and realignment, the moment is ripe to activate new models and proposals for how arts organizations [and artists] can flourish in the present climate and into an uncertain future. 

What’s the Story:  Essays about art, theater, and storytelling by Anne Bogart

Comments are welcome!         

Pearls from artists* # 96

 

Diane Arbus Revelations

Diane Arbus Revelations

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

My final day at the magic shop [in Disneyland, where he worked as a teenager], I stood behind the counter where I had pitched Svengali decks and the Incredible Shrinking Die, and I felt an emotional contradiction: nostalgia for the present. Somehow, even though I had stopped working only minutes earlier, my future fondness for the store was clear, and I experienced a sadness like that of looking at a photo of an old, favorite pooch. It was dusk by the time I left the shop, and I was redirected by a security guard who explained that a photographer was taking a picture and would I please use the side exit.

I did, and saw a small, thin woman with hacked brown hair aim her large-format camera directly at the dramatically lit castle, where white swans floated in the moat underneath the functioning drawbridge. Almost forty years later, when I was in my early fifties, I purchased that photo as a collectible, and it still hangs in my house. The photographer, it turned out, was Diane Arbus. I try to square the photo’s breathtaking romantic image with the rest of her extreme subject matter, and I assume she saw this facsimile of a castle as though it were a kitsch roadside statue of Paul Bunyan. Or perhaps she saw it as I did: beautiful.

Quoted by A.D. Coleman in Photocritical, May 28, 2014, from Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin

Comments are welcome! 

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