Blog Archives

Q; What was the spark that got you started? (Question from Barbara Smith via Facebook)

Ensign Barbara Rachko, circa 1983
Ensign Barbara Rachko, circa 1983

A: If I had to select one factor, I would say, profound unhappiness with my professional life. In 1986 I was a 33-year-old Navy Lieutenant working as a computer analyst at the Pentagon. I hated my job, was utterly miserable, and moreover, I was trapped because unlike many jobs, it’s not possible to resign a Naval commission with two weeks notice.

My bachelor’s degree had been in psychology. When I was in my 20s and before I joined the Navy, I had spent two years and my own money training to become a licensed commercial pilot and Boeing-727 Flight Engineer. I had planned to become an airline pilot, but due to bad timing (airlines were not hiring pilots when I was looking for a job), that did not come to pass.

So there I was with absolutely no interest, nor any training in computers, working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and completely bored. I knew I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere and resolved to make a significant change. Searching around, I discovered a local art school, the Art League School in Alexandria, VA, and began taking drawing classes.

One drawing class lead to more. Within a couple of years, due to being highly motivated to change my life, my technical skills rapidly improved. Even then, I believe, it was obvious to anyone who knew me that I had found my calling. I resigned my active duty Naval commission and have been a fulltime professional artist since October 1989. (Note: For fourteen more years I remained in the Naval Reserve working, mostly at the Pentagon, one weekend a month and two weeks each year, and retired as a Navy Commander in 2003).

Life as a self-employed professional artist is endlessly varied, fulfilling, and interesting. I have never once regretted my decision to pursue art fulltime!

Comments are welcome!

Q: What has been your biggest challenge so far?

"Us and Them," soft pastel on sandpaper, 47" x 38" image, 60" x 50" framed

“Us and Them,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 47″ x 38″ image, 60″ x 50″ framed

A:  On September 11, 2001, my husband Bryan, a high-ranking federal government employee, a brilliant economist (with an IQ of 180 he is the smartest man I have ever known) 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. 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 Bryan was the biggest shock of my life and devastating in every possible way.

The following summer I was ready to – I HAD to – get back to work. Learning about photography and pastel painting became avenues to my well-being. I use reference photos for my paintings, so my first challenge was to learn how to use Bryan’s 4 x 5 view camera (Bryan always took these reference photos for me).

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 had already acquired substantial technical knowledge from watching Bryan. Still, after the initial workshop, I threw myself into this new medium and continued studying photography at ICP for several years. I began with Photography I and enrolled in many more classes until I gradually learned how to use Bryan’s extensive camera collection, to properly light my setups, and to print large chromogenic photographs in a darkroom.

In October 2009 it was very gratifying to have my first solo photography exhibition with HP Garcia in New York. Please see http://barbararachko.art/images/PDFS/ BarbaraRachko-HPGargia.pdf. I vividly 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 respected photographer.

Continuing to make art had seemed an impossibility after Bryan’s death. However, the first large pastel painting that I created using a self-made reference photograph proved my life’s work could continue. The title of that painting, “She Embraced It and Grew Stronger,” is certainly autobiographical. “She” is me, and “it” means continuing on without Bryan and living life for both of us.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Is the relationship to your studio about a HABIT you created for working – the sequence of reading, looking, then working? (Question from Nancy Nikkal)

Barbara’s studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  Yes, I suppose you could say that reading, looking, and then working are habits that get me started on what I will be doing for the day.  If I may quote from my blog:  

https://barbararachkoscoloreddust.com/2012/09/15/q-you-seem-very-disciplined-do-you-ever-have-a-day-when-you-just-cant-get-excited-about-working/

Comments are welcome!

Travel photo of the month*

Ollantaytambo in Peru‘s Sacred Valley

Ollantaytambo in Peru‘s Sacred Valley

* Favorite travel photos that have not yet appeared in this blog

Because reminiscing while looking through old photographs is one of the few ‘travel’ options open to Americans now… sigh!

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 409

Recent works in progress

Recent works 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.

Poets can look at a painting and understand it without having it spelled out [and] painters can read poetry… People say, I don’t understand what it means, about John Ashbery’s poetry.  Painters would never say that… The idea of “I don’t understand what it means,” looking at abstract painting and saying, “Explain it to me, what does it mean?”  You don’t say that, and you don’t ask people to explain music.  And so, poets, painters, composers don’t need explanations.  Explanations are for other people… burdened by logic.

Elaine de Kooning quoted in Mary Gabriel in Ninth Street Women

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  “Majordomo,” 20” x 26,” soft pastel on sandpaper, is coming along.  After today’s studio session, I will put it aside and add finishing details when I am able to see it fresh again.  I‘ve been looking at this piece too long to know what else it needs now.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 387

Barbara at work on “Schemer,” Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 26” x 20”

Barbara at work on “Schemer,” 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.

You know, you don’t go into the studio and say, “Oh, here I am this marvelous heroine, this wonderful woman doing my marvelous painting so all these marvelous women artists can come after me and do their marvelous painting.”  There you are alone in this huge space and you are not conscious of the fact that you have breasts and a vagina.  You are inside yourself, looking at a damned piece of rag on the wall that you are supposed to make a world out of.  That is all you are conscious of.  I simply cannot believe that a man feels differently… Inside yourself, you are looking at this terrifying unknown and trying to feel, to pull everything you can out of all your experience, to make something.  I think a woman or a man creating feels very much the same way.  I bring my experience, which is different from a man’s, yes, and I put it where I can.  But once that is done, I don’t know if it is a woman’s experience I’m looking at.

Grace Hartigan quoted in Ninth Street Women by Mary Gabriel

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 379

"Blind Faith," 38" x 58," soft pastel on sandpaper

“Blind Faith,” 38″ x 58,” soft pastel on sandpaper

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

Elaine’s and Bill’s [de Kooning] relationship involved a continual exchange of ideas that wasn’t restricted to conversations with friends.  In the quiet of their studio when they were finally alone, they’d climb into bed and Elaine would read to Bill.  Faulkner was a favorite.  She also read Ambrose Bierce’s Civil War tales.  And she would read Kierkegaard.  That nineteenth-century father of Existentialism wrote with great passion about the essential solitude and uncertainty of the human struggle.  They were words of consolation for Bill and Elaine who, though confident in their paths as artists, could not have been free of the nagging fear that they might spend their lives looking and never find what they sought in their work.  Kierkegaard seemed to say that it didn’t matter, that it was striving that counted, and he described the need to reconcile oneself to the unknowable that was man’s fate.  The artist, he said, had a crucial role to play in that regard.  Like a religious figure who was an envoy from a realm most people could not access, the artist through his or her work revealed pure spirit so that men mired in the bitter reality of daily life might find the strength to continue.

Mary Gabriel in Ninth Street Women

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 350

Ahmedabad, India

Ahmedabad, India

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

Seeing is not a passive awareness of visual data, but an active focusing upon it, “touching” it.  Arnheim writes, in language that echoes the Hindu notion of seeing and touching:  “In looking at an object we reach out for it.  With an invisible finger we move through the space around us, go out to the distant places where things are found, touch them, catch them, scan their surfaces, trace their borders, explore their texture.  It is an eminently active occupation.”        

Diana L. Eck in Darsan:  Seeing the Divine Image in India

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 213

Matisse Book Cover

Matisse Book Cover

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

I am astonished by the accuracy with which Matisse remembers the most trifling facts; he describes  a room that he went into forty years ago and gives you the measurements, where every piece of furniture stood, how the light fell.  He is a man of astounding precision and has little time for anything that he has not confirmed for himself.   In art matters, he is not the sort to go looking for a profile fortuitously created by cracks in the wall.  Elie Faure writes that Matisse is perhaps the only one of his contemporaries (in particular Marquet and Bonnard) to know exactly where he comes from and the only one who never allows it to show “because his inveterate, invincible, vigilant willpower is always focused on being himself and nothing but.”

Matisse neglects nothing.  He seems to know as much about the art market as about painting.

So many stratagems to sell a painting, from intimidating the purchaser to seeming to avoid him:  Vollard used them all and used them successfully.  Not least the lies that he told to  reassure the client.  “It works like this,” says Matisse:  “To make a sale, you invent lies that have somehow disappeared into thin air by the time the deal is done.”

We talk of the difficulties faced by dealers hoping to gain access to Renoir in his Cagnes residence.  Renoir didn’t like having people talk to him about selling his work,” says Matisse:  “It bored him.  About the only one who got a foot in the door was Paul Guillaume; he dressed up as a young worker with a floppy necktie:  “You see, I’m a local.  I’ve always loved your painting.  I’ve just inherited a little money; I’d like to buy something.”       

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

Comments are welcome! 

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