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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!

Q: What is your process? (Question from artamour)

Some of Barbara’s pastels

A: For thirty-six years I have worked exclusively in soft pastel on sandpaper.  Pastel, which is pigment and a binder to hold it together, is as close to unadulterated color as an artist can get.  It allows for very saturated color, especially employing the self-invented techniques I have developed and mastered. I believe my “science of color” is unique, completely unlike how any other artist works.  I spend three to four months on each painting, applying pastel and blending the layers together to mix new colors on the paper. 

The acid-free sandpaper support allows the buildup of 25 to 30 layers of pastel as I slowly and meticulously work for hundreds of hours to complete a painting.  The paper is extremely forgiving.  I can change my mind, correct, refine, etc. as much as I want until a painting is the best I can create at that moment in time. 

My techniques for using soft pastel achieve rich velvety textures and exceptionally vibrant color.  Blending with my fingers, I painstakingly apply dozens of layers of pastel onto the sandpaper.  In addition to the thousands of pastels that I have to choose from, I make new colors directly on the paper.  Regardless of size, each pastel painting takes three to four months and hundreds of hours to complete. 

have been devoted to soft pastel from the beginning.  In my blog and in numerous interviews online and elsewhere, I continue to expound on its merits.  For me no other fine art medium comes close. 

My subject matter is unique.  I am drawn to Mexican, Guatemalan, and Bolivian cultural objects—masks, carved wooden animals, papier mâché figures, and toys.  On trips to these countries and elsewhere I frequent local mask shops, markets, and bazaars searching for the figures that will populate my pastel paintings.  How, why, when, and where these objects come into my life is an important part of the creative process.  Each pastel painting is a highly personal blend of reality, fantasy, and autobiography.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Where do you create your art? (Question from artamour)

Barbara’s Studio

A: In April 1997 an opportunity to move to New York City arose and I didn’t look back. By then I was showing in a good 57th Street gallery, Brewster Gallery (they focused exclusively on Latin American Masters so I was in the company of Leonora Carrington, Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera, etc.).  Also, I had managed to find an excellent New York artists/agent, Leah Poller, with whom to collaborate. (Leah and I are still dear friends).

I looked at only one other space before finding my West 29th Street studio and knew instantly it was the one! An old friend of Bryan’s from Cal Tech rented the space next door and he had told us it was available. Initially the studio was a sublet. The lease-holder was a painter headed to northern California to work temporarily for George Lucas at the Lucas Ranch. After several years she decided to stay so I was able to take over the lease. I feel extremely fortunate to have been in my West 29th Street, New York City space now for twenty-five years. In a city where old buildings are knocked down to make way for new ones this is rare.

My studio is an oasis in a chaotic city, a place to make art, to read, and to think. I love to walk in the door every morning and I feel calmer the moment I arrive. It is still my absolute favorite place in New York! Sometimes I think of it as my best creation.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 465

“Raconteur,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58” x 38,” signed lower 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.

In his 1970 Nobel Prize lecture, Aleksander Solzhenitsyn proposed that if art has never been revealed its intrinsic “function” to us, it is because such a thing is beyond our ken. For the Russian writer, we are mistaken when we call art a human innovation; we ought instead to see it as a gift, something that came to us from beyond the bounds of our world. Solzhenitsyn illustrates his point by comparing the work of art to the technological marvel that a man from the proverbial Stone Age comes across in the wilderness. Unable to penetrate its secrets, the man can only turn the object this way and that, looking for “some arbitrary use to which he can put it, without suspecting an extraordinary one.” Solzhenitsyn goes on:

So also we, holding art in our hands, confidently consider ourselves to be its masters, boldly we direct it, reform and manifest it; we sell it for money, use it to please those in power; turn to it at one moment for amusement… and at another… for the passing needs of politics and for narrow-minded social ends. But art is not defiled by our efforts, neither does it thereby depart from its true nature, but on each occasion and in each application it gives us a part of its secret inner light.”

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

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Pearls from artists* # 453

Carnival Masks at the Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz
Carnival Masks at the Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz, Bolivia

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

Art begins in the struggle for equilibrium. One cannot create from a balanced state. Being off balance produces a predicament that is always interesting on stage. In the moment of unbalance, our animal instincts prompt us to struggle towards equilibrium and this struggle is endlessly engaging and fruitful. When you welcome imbalance in your work, you will find yourself instantly face to face with your own inclination towards habit. Habit is an artist’s opponent. In art, the unconscious repetition of familiar territory is never vital or exciting. We must try to remain awake and alive in the face of our inclinations towards habit. Finding yourself off balance provides you with an invitation to disorientation and difficulty. It is not a comfortable prospect. You are suddenly out of your element and out of control. And it is here the adventure begins. When you welcome imbalance, you will instantly enter new and unchartered territory in which you feel small and inadequate in relation to the task at hand. But the fruits of this engagement abound.

Anne Bogart in A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theatre

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Pearls from artists* # 449

Working
Working

*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 learned about the Japanese word irimi while studying Aikido, a Japanese martial art. Simply translated, irimi means ,’to enter’ but it can also be translated ‘choose death.’ When attacked you always have two options: to enter, irimi, or to go around, ura. Both when accomplished in the right manner, are creative. To enter or to ‘choose death’ means to enter fully with the acceptance, if necessary, of death. The only way to win is to risk everything and be fully willing to die. If this is an extreme notion to Occidental sensibilities, it does make sense in creative practice. To achieve the violence of decisiveness, one has to ‘choose death’ in the moment by acting fully and intuitively without pausing for reflection about whether it is the right decision or if it is going to provide the winning solution.

It is also valuable to know when to use ura, or going around. There is a time for ura, going around, and there is a time for irimi, entering. And these times can never be known in advance. You must sense the situation and act immediately. In the heat of creation, there is no time for reflection; there is only connection to what is happening. The analysis, the reflection and the criticism belong before and after, never during, the creative act.

Anne Bogart in “A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theater”

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 445

Artists at work… our documentary film crew!

*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 good friend the writer Charles L. Mee, Jr helped me to recognize the relationship between art and the way societies are structured. He suggested that, as societies develop, it is the artists who articulate the necessary myths that embody our experience of life and provide parameters for ethics and values. Every so often the inherited myths lose their value because they become too small and confined to contain the complexities of the ever-transforming and expanding societies. In that moment new myths are needed to encompass who we are becoming. These new constructs do not eliminate anything already in the mix; rather, they include fresh influences and engender new formations. The new mythologies always include ideas, cultures and people formerly excluded from the previous mythologies. So, deduces Mee, the history of art is the history of inclusion.

I believe that the new mythologies will be created and articulated in art, in literature, painting and poetry. It is the artists who will create a livable future through their ability to articulate in the face of flux and change.

Anne Bogart in A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theater

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Pearls from artists* # 438

Chalcatzingo, Mexico

Chalcatzingo, Mexico

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

Although {Manuel} Alvarez Bravo and Cartier-Bresson were both important mentors for Iturbide, her photographs, as she confirms, are not connected to Surrealism in any way.  Henri Cartier-Bresson’s publication Carnets du Mexique (Mexican Notebooks) was an important influence, as it presented a visual representation of Mexico that resonated with her.  (Cartier-Bresson also worked mainly in Juchitan, where Iturbide has spent a great deal of time).  However, Iturbide developed a way of working quite different from Cartier-Bresson’s.  What distinguishes the two artists’ photographs lies in the notion of the fleeting instant, or, as Cartier-Bresson called it, “the decisive moment.”  Iturbide refers to Cartier-Bresson’s interest in the “sharp eye” and capturing an instant in time, and describes her own intentions when photographing:  “More than in time, I’m interested in the artistic form of the symbol.”  Further, Iturbide’s photographs are taken with an understanding of the people, rituals, and symbols of the communities she captures, which makes them stand apart from Cartier-Bresson’s fleeting moments of Mexico.  Her work is informed by her deep connection and empathy for her subjects.

Kristen Gresh in Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico         

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 435

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.

Most artists are not as estranged from their fellow human beings, as bereft of reasons for existing, or as alienated from the common values and enthusiasms of the world as are the outsider characters created by existential writers like Kafka, Camus, and Sartre.  But insofar as artists do regularly feel different from other people, a differentness experienced both as a sense of oddness and a sense of specialness, they identify with the outsider’s concerns and come to the interpersonal moment in guarded or distant fashion.

In part, artists are outsiders because of the personal mythology they possess.  This mythology is a blend of beliefs about the importance of the individual, the responsibility of the artist as a maker of culture and a witness to the truth, and the ordained separateness of the artist.  Artists often stand apart on principle, like Napoleonic figures perched on a hill overlooking the battle.

The artist may also find himself [sic] speechless in public.  Around him people chat, but he has little to offer.  Too much of what he knows and feels has gone directly into his art and too much has been revealed to him in solitude – infinitely more than he can share in casual conversation.     

Eric Maisel, A Life in the Arts:  Practical Guidance and Inspiration for Creative and Performing Artists

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Pearls from artists* # 423

"Epiphany," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58"

“Epiphany,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″

* 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’ve mentioned that Kenneth Clark, the British art historian, said you could take the four best paintings of any artist in history and destroy the rest and the artist’s reputation would still be intact.  This is because in any artist’s life there are moments when everything goes right.  The artist is so in tune with his or her inner vision that there is no restriction.  The divine is being expressed.  Each mark becomes like a note of music in a divine order.

That experience, that prayer of expression, transcends its material and becomes spiritual.  The experience is overwhelming, the joys it communicates explosive.

When on another occasion we can’t find that spiritual level of experience, and so can’t repeat it, the frustration can be cruel and the separation painful.  Here lies the myth of the suffering artist.  It isn’t the art making when it goes well that has any suffering in it.  That is the union with the beloved.  It’s the loss that causes the suffering.  And the problem isn’t something we can necessarily control.  We are instruments, conduits for that expression.  It comes through us by grace.

The idea that we “make” art is perhaps a bit misleading.  The final product is at its best the result of a collaboration with spirit.  We may be separated from a flow within our spirit for weeks.  We continue to paint because there is no knowing at what precise moment it will return.  And when it does we need our faculties alert and our skills honed.  Then the poetry is everywhere.    

Ian Roberts in Creative Authenticity:  16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision

Comments are welcome!

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