Blog Archives

Q: What time of day do you find best for working?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  I have always been a morning person.  When I was learning to fly at the age of twenty-five, I would be at the airport before 6 a.m. for flying lessons.   When I was in the Navy, I needed to be at my Pentagon office by 7.  

Mornings are still my most productive time.  Generally, I wake up early and then head directly to work at my studio or to swim laps at a nearby pool.  The windows in my studio face east so it gets lovely morning light.

Comments are welcome! 

Q: What do you think are the most important qualities in an artist?

“Big Deal,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″

A: Two essentials immediately come to mind.  I believe imagination and curiosity are very important qualities, not only for artists, but for anyone who hopes to look back on a well-lived life.  As Lauren Bacall famously said, “Imagination is the highest kite one can fly.” 

It is curiosity that keeps people laser-focused on a lifetime journey of learning.  I’d venture to say that curiosity is the not-so-secret quality of accomplished people in every profession.  We humans can never know enough!

Comments are welcome!            

Pearls from artists* # 143

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

“Intruder,” 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.

Artists and designers have the capacity to generate something from deep inside ourselves to live outside of ourselves.  By residing in the experiential and the physical, and by developing the “hands on” as a portal of intelligent learning, we confirm the mind as maker and making as a state of mindfulness.  We demonstrate how artists and designers are hosts for enduring creative discovery that is self-initiated and actively engaged.  In short, artists and designers manifest what has not existed previously – in many cases, what has never even been imagined.

Rosanne Somerson in The Art of Critical Making:  Rhode Island School of Design on Creative Practice, Rosanne Somerson and Mara L. Hermano, editors

Comments are welcome!

   

Q: I have been always fascinated with the re-contexualizing power of Art and with the way some objects or even some concepts often gain a second life when they are “transduced” on a canvas or in a block of marble. So I would like to ask you if in your opinion, personal experience is an absolutely indespensable part of a creative process. Do you think that a creative process could be disconnected from direct experience?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  Certainly personal experience is an indispensable and inseparable part of the creative process. For me art and life are one and I suspect that is true for most artists. When I look at each of my pastel paintings I can remember what was going on in my life at the time I made it. Each is a sort of veiled autobiography waiting to be decoded and in a way, each is also a time-capsule of the larger zeitgeist. It’s still a mystery how exactly this happens but all lived experience – what’s going on in the world, books I’m reading and thinking about, movies I’ve seen that have stayed with me, places I’ve visited, etc. – overtly and/or not so obviously, finds its way into the work. 

Life experience also explains why the work I do now is different from my work even five years ago.  In many ways I am not the same person.     

The inseparableness of art and life is one reason that travel is so important to my creative process.   Artists always seek new influences that will enrich and change our work.  To be an artist, indeed to be alive, is to never stop learning and growing.      

Comments are welcome!    

Q: Why do people need art in their daily lives?

 

With Ida Bagus Anom, Mas, Bali; Photo:  Donna Tang

With Ida Bagus Anom, Mas, Bali; Photo: Donna Tang

A:  That is for each person to decide, but as someone who devotes every waking moment to my work and to becoming a better artist, I cannot imagine my life without art.  

I will tell you a little about what art has done for me.  In my younger days boredom was a strong motivator.  I left the active duty Navy out of boredom.  I couldn’t bear not being intellectually challenged (most of my jobs consisted of paper-pushing), not using my flying skills (at 27 I was a licensed commercial pilot and Boeing-727 flight engineer), and not developing my artistic talents.  In what surely must be a first, the Navy turned me into a hard-working and disciplined artist.  And once I left the Navy there was no plan B.  There was no time to waste.  It was “full speed ahead.” 

Art is a calling.  You do not need to be told this if you are among those who are called.  It’s all about “the work,” that all-consuming focus of an artist’s life.  If a particular activity doesn’t seem likely to make me a better artist, I tend to avoid it.  I work hard to nourish and protect my  gifts.  As artists we invent our own tasks, learn whatever we need in order to progress, and complete projects in our own time.  It is life lived at its freest. 

My art-making has led me to fascinating places:  Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, France, England, Italy, Bali, Java, Sri Lanka, and more; and to in-depth studies of intriguing subjects:  drawing, color, composition, art and art history, the art business, film and film history, photography, mythology, literature, music, jazz and jazz history, and archaeology, particularly that of ancient Mesoamerica (Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Aztec, Maya, etc.).  And this rich mixture continually grows!  For anyone wanting to spend their time on earth learning and meeting new challenges, there is no better life! 

Comments are welcome!

Q: You have spoken about learning to fly at the age of 25. What airplanes did you fly?

Cessna 150

Cessna 150

A:  I learned to fly at a small airport in Caldwell, NJ.  Flying is expensive and since I didn’t have much money, I sought a job at Liberty Aviation, the local flight school, in exchange for flying lessons.  For every three hours I worked, I earned a flying lesson.  At the time it cost $25/hour to rent a plane, plus $10/hour for an instructor, and I was fortunate to find an excellent flight instructor who offered to teach me for free. 

After I completed ground school at Clifton High School, I took my first flying lesson.  It was on April 1, 1978 in a (two-seat) Cessna 150.  During the following months I flew every chance I could, in Cessna 150s and newer Cessna 152s, and also occasionally in Piper Cherokees.  On September 24, 1978 I received my private pilot’s license. 

Then I got checked-out in a larger (four-seat) Cessna 172.  For my instrument training I flew Cessna 150s and 172s.  I received my instrument rating in April 1979. 

Next I trained for a commercial pilot’s license and a multi-engine rating.  I flew Cessna 172s and a twin-engine Piper Seminole and obtained my license and rating in May 1980. 

In December 1980 I began Boeing 727 flight engineer training at Flight International in Atlanta, GA.  Most of this was in Boeing-727 flight simulators with Delta airline pilots as instructors.  My check-ride was in a Boeing-727 owned by FedEx.  I received my flight engineer’s certificate in February 1981.  At the time I was the only woman in the entire school!

Comments are welcome!

Q: What have you learned about the people of Mexico through your travels, reading, and research?

A corner of the studio

A corner of the studio

A:  It didn’t take long to become smitten with these beautiful people.  It happened on my first trip there in 1992 when Bryan and I, along with busloads of other tourists, were visiting the Oaxacan cemeteries on The Day of the Dead.  The Oaxaquenos tending their ancestor’s 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 them and with their beliefs.  My studies since that time have given me a deeper appreciation for the art, architecture, history, mythology, etc. that comprise the extremely rich and complex story of Mexico as a cradle of civilization in the West.  It is a wonderfully heady mix and hopefully some of it comes through in my work as a painter and a photographer.

By the way I often wonder why the narrative of Mexico’s fascinating history was not taught in American public schools, at least not where I went to public school in suburban New Jersey.  Mexico is our neighbor, for goodness sake, but when I speak to many Americans about Mexico they have never learned anything about the place!  It’s shocking, but many people think only “Spring Break” and/or “Drug Wars,” when they hear the word “Mexico.”  As a kid I remember learning about Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and other early civilizations in the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, but very little about Mexico.  We learned about the Maya, when it was still believed that they were a peaceful people who devoted their lives to scientific and religious pursuits, but that story was debunked years ago.  And I am fairly sure that not many Americans even know that Maya still exist in the world … in Mexico and in Guatemala.   There are a few remote places that were not completely destroyed by Spanish Conquistadores in the 16th century and later.  I’ve been to Mayan villages in Guatemala and seen shamans performing ancient rituals.  For an artist from a place as rooted in the present moment as New York, it’s an astounding thing to witness!  

Comments are welcome!

Q: The handmade frames on your large pastel-on-sandpaper paintings are quite elaborate. Can you speak more about them?

"Quartet" (left) and "Epiphany," soft pastel on sandpaper

“Quartet” (left) and “Epiphany,” soft pastel on sandpaper

A:  I have been working in soft pastel since 1986, I believe, and within six years the sizes of my paintings increased from 11″ x 14″ to 58″ x 38.”  (I’d like to work even bigger, but the limiting factors continue to be first, the size of mat board that is available and second, the size of my pick-up truck).  My earliest work is framed with pre-cut mats, do-it-yourself Nielsen frames, and glass that was cut-to-order at the local hardware store.  With larger-sized paintings DIY framing became impractical.  In 1989 an artist told me about Underground Industries, a custom framing business in Fairfax, Virginia, run by Rob Plati, his mother, Del, and until last year, Rob’s late brother, Skip.  So Rob and Del have been my framers for 24 years.  When I finish a painting in my New York studio, I drive it to Virginia to be framed.

Pastel paintings have unique problems – for example, a smudge from a finger, a stray drop of water, or a sneeze will ruin months of hard work.  Once a New York pigeon even pooped on a finished painting!  Framing my work is an ongoing learning experience.  Currently, my frames are deep, with five layers of acid-free foam core inserted between the painting and the mat to separate them.  Plexiglas has a static charge so it needs to be kept as far away from the pastel as possible, especially since I do not spray finished pastel paintings with fixative.

Once they are framed, my paintings cannot be laid face down.  There’s a danger that stray pastel could flake off.  If that happens, the whole frame needs to be taken apart and the pastel dust removed.  It’s a time-consuming, labor-intensive process and an inconvenience, since Rob and Del, the only people I trust with my work, are five hours away from New York by truck. 

Comments are welcome!

Q: Can you speak in more detail about how losing your husband, Dr. Bryan C. Jack, on 9/11 affected your artistic practice?

"She Embraced It and Grew Stronger," 2003, 58" x 38", first large pastel-on-sandpaper painting completed after Bryan was killed

“She Embraced It and Grew Stronger,” 2003, 58″ x 38″, first large pastel-on-sandpaper painting completed after Bryan was killed

A:  On September 11, 2001, Bryan, who was a high-ranking, career, federal government employee, a brilliant economist (with an IQ of 180 he is still the smartest man I’ve ever met) 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 there.  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 him was the biggest shock of my life, devastating in every possible way.  I think about him every day and I continually think about how easily I, too, could have been killed on 9/11.  I had decided not to travel with Bryan to California, a place I absolutely love visiting, only because the planned trip was too short.  His plane crashed directly into my (Navy Reserve) office on the fifth floor, e-ring of the Pentagon.  I still imagine how close we came to Bryan having been killed on the plane and me perishing in the building.  To this  day I believe that I was spared for a reason and I strive to make every day count.

The six months after 9/11 passed by in a blur, except that I vividly remember an October 2001 awards  ceremony at the DAR Hall in Washington, DC.  I was picked up by a big black limousine, sent by the Department of  Defense.  At the ceremony I sat with members of the president’s cabinet.  I accepted the Defense Exceptional Civilian Service Medal for Bryan, an award he would have accepted himself had he been alive, and was addressed face-to-face by George Bush, Jr., not someone I particularly liked (to put it nicely).  Later Bryan was given more awards –  a Presidential Rank Award, a Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, and the Defense of Freedom Medal.  Many other honors came in and I’ll mention two.  Bryan’s hometown of Tyler, Texas named a magnet school after him – Dr. Bryan C. Jack Elementary School (the principal and I cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony) – and Stanford University set up the “Bryan Jack Memorial Scholarship,” which annually helps two deserving students attend Stanford Business School.     

The following summer I was ready to – I HAD to – get back to work so my first challenge was to learn how to use Bryan’s 4 x 5 view camera. 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 already knew quite a lot from watching Bryan.  Thankfully, I was soon on my way to working again.  After the initial workshop, I decided to begin with the basics since I had never formally studied photography before. I threw myself into learning this new (to me) medium.  Over the next few years I enrolled in a series of classes at ICP, starting with Photography I.  Along the way I learned to use Bryan’s extensive camera collection (old Leicas, Nikons, Mamiyas, and more) and to make my own large chromogenic prints in the darkroom.  In October 2009 it was extremely gratifying to have my first solo photography exhibition with HP Garcia in New York (please see the exhibition catalogue on the sidebar).  I 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 photographer.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 11

Great Salt Lake

Great Salt Lake

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

Virtually all artists spend some of their time (and some artists spend all of their time) producing work that no one else much cares about.  It just seems to come with the territory.  But for some reason – self defense, perhaps – artists find it tempting to romanticize this lack of response, often by (heroically) picturing themselves peering deeply into the underlying nature of things long before anyone else has eyes to follow.

Romantic, but wrong.  The sobering truth is that the disinterest of others hardly ever reflects a gulf in vision.In fact there’s generally no good reason why others should care about most of any one artist’s work.  The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars.  One of the basic and difficult lessons  every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential.  X-rays of famous paintings reveal that even master artists sometimes made basic mid-course corrections (or deleted really dumb mistakes) by over-painting the still wet canvas.  The point is that you learn how to make your work by making your work, and a great many pieces you make along the way will never stand out as finished  art.  The best you can do is make art you care about – and lots of it!

The rest is largely a matter of perseverance.  Of course once you’re famous, collectors and academics will circle back in droves to claim credit for spotting evidence of genius in every early piece.  But until your ship comes in, the only people who will really care about your work are those who care about you personally.  Those close to you know that making the work is essential to your well being.  They will always care about your work, if not because it is great, then because it is yours – and this is something to be genuinely thankful for.  Yet however much they love you, it still remains as true for them as for the rest of the world:  learning to make your work is not their problem.

David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear

Comments are welcome.