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Pearls from artists* # 521

“Raconteur,” soft pastel in sandpaper, 58″ x 38″ image, 70″ x 50″ framed

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

But on the whole, I’m taking into consideration, at the point of the cut, where the audience’s eye is and what direction it’s moving, and with what speed. The editor has to imagine the audience’s point of attention when the film is projected, and has to be able to predict where ninety-nine percent of the audience is looking at any moment… I have to be able to say with some certainty that at such-and-such a moment ninety-nine percent of the audience will be looking at this point on the screen, and in the next second they will be looking here. That means that their eye is travelling, say, left to right, to the upper corner of the frame, at a certain speed. If I choose to cut at this point – at frame 17 – I know that at that moment their eye is right here, in the Cartesian grid of the screen.

That’s a very valuable piece of information. When I select the next shot, I choose a frame that has an interesting visual at exactly that point, where the audience’s eye is at the moment of the cut, to catch and redirect their attention somewhere else. Every shot has its own dynamic. One of the editor’s obligations is to carry, like a sacred vessel, the focus of attention of the audience and move it in interesting ways around the surface of the screen.

This is exactly what I do as I work to compose my pastel paintings! – BR

In The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 511

My paternal grandparents, left

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

You do not need anyone’s permission to live a creative life.

Maybe you didn’t receive this kind of message when you were growing up. Maybe your parents were terrified of risk in any form. Maybe your parents were obsessive-compulsive rule-followers, or maybe they were too busy being melancholic depressives, or addicts, or abusers to ever use their imaginations towards creativity. Maybe they were afraid of what the neighbors would say. Maybe your parents weren’t makers in the least. Maybe they were pure consumers. Maybe you grew up in an environment where people just sat around watching tv and waiting for stuff to happen to them.

Forget about it. It doesn’t matter.

Look a little further back in your family’s history. Look at your grandparents: Odds are pretty good they were makers. No? Not yet? Keep looking back, then. Go back further still. Look at your great-grandparents. Look at your ancestors. Look at the ones who were immigrants, or slaves, or soldiers, or farmers, or sailors, or the original people who watched the ships arrive with the strangers onboard. Go back far enough and you will find people who were not consumers. People who were not passively waiting for stuff to happen to them. You will find people who spent their lives making things.

This is where you come from.

This is where we all come from.

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

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* # 484

Behind the scenes of our documentary. Photo: David De Hannay

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

[Walter] Murch: We hope we become better editors with experience! Yet you have to have an intuition about the craft to begin with: for me, it begins with, Where is the audience looking? What are they thinking? As much as possible, you try to be the audience. At the point of transition from one shot to another, you have to be pretty sure where the audience’s eye is looking, where the focus of attention is. That will either make the cut work or not.

[Michael] Ondaatje: So before you make the cut, if you feel the audience is looking towards point X, then you cut to another angle where the focus of attention is somewhere around that point X.

The Conversation: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje

This passage in Ondaatje’s book resonates because I work similarly to refine and construct each pastel painting. My goal is to move the viewer’s eye around in an engaging and interesting way. This part of my process is subtle so I suspect that most of my audience neither appreciates nor even suspects that I have done it.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What was the first New York gallery that represented your work and how did they find you?

Exhibition Review

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.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress
“Shamanic,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 35” x 28.5” framed

A: I just started a large 58″ x 38″ pastel painting based on the same reference photograph I used for “Shamanic,” 26″ x 20.” Sometimes ideas for new projects arrive in prosaic ways. I saw a mockup of “Shamanic” on my New Delhi gallery’s Instagram page. The mockup depicted my pastel painting as considerably larger than it actually is. I became intrigued with this unexpected format and decided to create a new one in a larger size.

For now I have turned Shamanic” to the wall so that it does not inadvertently influence my color choices. The two pastel paintings are already looking quite different.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Who is your core audience for your blog? What do you want people to know about your art that you have not created visually? (Question from “Arte Realizzata”)

Working on “Raconteur”
Working on “Raconteur”

A: As I understand it, my core audience here (currently 77,000+ and growing!) is an international group of artists and art aficionados looking for hope, inspiration, and probably, motivation to keep making art.  Unfortunately, ours is a world that too often misunderstands and under-appreciates the difficult, essential, and sometimes lonely work undertaken by artists.  Hopefully, my blog makes readers think, “If Barbara can keep making art under these conditions and continue to thrive after what she’s been through, maybe I can, too!”  

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 472

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.

A remark by Kurt Anderson suggests how the Internet discourages patient gazing: “Waiting a while to get everything you want… was a definition of maturity. Demanding satisfaction right this instant, on the other hand, is a defining behavior of seven-year-olds. The powerful appeal of the Web is not just the ‘community’ it enables but its instantane-ity… as a result… delayed gratification itself came to seem quaint and unnecessary.” A survey commissioned by the Visitor Studies Association reveals the impact of impatience. On average, the survey found, Americans spend between six and ten seconds looking at individual works in museums. (Is it just a coincidence that six to ten seconds is also the average time browsers perch on any given Web page?) Yet how many hours a day do we spend absorbed by one or another electronic screen? For the Los Angeles artist Ed Ruscha (born 1937) brief encounters won’t suffice. When somebody asked, “How can you tell good art from bad?” Ruscha replied, “With a bad work you immediately say, ‘Wow!’ But afterwards, you think, ‘Hum? Maybe not.’ With a good work, the opposite happens.” Time is lodged at the heart of Ruscha’s formula, as the artwork becomes part of our temporal experience. In order to know what is good, we need to take a breather. Even to know what is bad, we need to pause.

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

Comments are welcome!

Q: When did you start using the sandpaper technique and why (Question from “Arte Realizzata”)

The start of a new pastel-on-sandpaper painting

A: In the late 1980s when I was studying at the Art League School in Alexandria, VA, I enrolled in  a three-day pastel workshop with Albert Handel, an artist known for his southwest landscapes in pastel and oil paint.  I had just begun working with soft pastel and was experimenting with paper.  Handel suggested I try Ersta fine sandpaper.  I did and nearly three decades later, I’ve never used anything else. 

This paper is acid-free and accepts dry media, mainly pastel and charcoal.   It allows me to build up layer upon layer of pigment and blend, without having to use a fixative.  The tooth of the paper almost never gets filled up so it continues to hold pastel.  (On the rare occasion when the tooth DOES fill up, which sometimes happens with problem areas that are difficult to resolve, I take a bristle paintbrush, dust off the unwanted pigment, and start again).  My entire technique – slowly applying soft pastel, blending and creating new colors directly on the paper, making countless corrections and adjustments, rendering minute details, looking for the best and/or most vivid colors – evolved in conjunction with this paper. 

I used to say that if Ersta ever went out of business and stopped making sandpaper, my artist days would be over.  Thankfully, when that DID happen, UArt began making a very similar paper.  I buy it in two sizes – 22″ x 28″ sheets and 56″ wide by 10-yard-long rolls.  The newer version of the rolled paper is actually better than the old, because when I unroll it, it lays flat immediately.  With Ersta I would lay the paper out on the floor for weeks before the curl would give way and it was flat enough to work on.

Comments are welcome!

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