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Pearls from artists* # 374

Barbara’a studio

Barbara’a 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.

Finally, [John] Graham said, of all the arts, painting was the most difficult because one false move on a canvas could mean the difference between a great painting and a failure.  A writer could always resurrect a word, but a line or a shape was so ephemeral that, once changed, it was almost always lost for good.  “To create life one has to love.  To create a great work of art one has to love truth with the passion of a maniac.  If society does not perceive this love, perhaps humanity will.”  …The artists… came away… feeling as though they were not aberrations but part of a long tradition of individuals who had ignored fashion to create culture.

Mary Gabriel in Ninth Street Women

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Q: What’s on the easel today?

“Sentinels,” Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 38” x 58”

“Sentinels,” Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 38” x 58”

A:  At last, I have put finishing touches on “Sentinels,” 38” x 58,” and signed it!  The photographer will photograph it and then, on my next trip south, this painting goes to the framer in Virginia.

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Q: Your work is unlike anyone else’s. There is such power and boldness in your pastels. What processes are you using to create such poignant and robustly colored work?

Barbara working on an interview. Photo: Maria Cox

Barbara working on an interview. Photo: Maria Cox

A:  For thirty-three 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 using 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 about four months and hundreds of hours to complete.  

I 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 singular.  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.

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Pearls from artists* # 364

"White Star," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58"

“White Star,” 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.

If we are left unmoved by a painting of the Virgin, it is likely because the artist was unmoved in the painting of her.  The subject matter is mostly irrelevant; it is important only as a vehicle for the artist’s attention.  Authenticity comes from how deeply the artist felt.  And this is the key to how much silence, how much consciousness or attention, the art contains.

subject matter, if the artist is even using it, is just an armature for the artist to engage his intensity of feeling.  It is the quality of your attention that influences how you see and how deeply you feel.  Different artists have affinities for different subject matter as a way into expressing themselves deeply.  And that depth is the quality, we, the viewers, respond to.  It is what we continue to respond to over the centuries in great works of art.  The fact that things last, that we continue to admire them, is in the end a good indicator of their quality, of their silence.  Art museums therefore, have little nodes of silence nestling in their galleries.  They are filled with, to use André Malraux’s expression, “the voices of silence.”

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

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Pearls from artists* # 363

Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India

Thar Desert, Rajasthan, 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.

Beauty seems to need quiet and take patience, both to create it and to experience it.

If our minds are filled with a long and urgent “to do” list, we are not likely to slow down enough to appreciate anything but the next line we can draw through our never-ending list.  Yet every now and again something stops us. It arrests our constant external activity and search.  We can be stopped by the way the light filters through the trees in our backyard or hits a bowl of fruit on our kitchen table.  And we are silenced, even if momentarily.  We can be stopped by cave paintings as easily as by a thirteenth-century tapestry or a fifteenth-century Italian painting.  We may be impressed by the craft of the artist, but almost always what moves us most deeply is the beauty that is expressed by the craft.

In the face of beauty, we are silenced because beauty expresses silence.  In lavishing attention on the object of the artwork, the consciousness of the artist can touch something divine, some transcendental quality, and that transcendent element now resides in the artwork.  How do we know it?  We feel it. We experience it.  Our heart responds to that sublime quality the artist infused into the work.

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

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Pearls from artists* # 339

 Untitled c-print, 24” x 20,” reference photo for “Shamanic,” Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 38” x 58”

Untitled c-print, 24” x 20,” reference photo for “Shamanic,” 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 have no love for reasonable painting.  There is in me an old leaven, some black depth which must  be appeased.  If I am not quivering and excited like a serpent in the hands of a soothsayer I am uninspired.  I must recognize this and accept it.  Everything good that I have done has come to me in this way.

The Journal of Eugene Delacroix, edited by Hubert Wellington

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Q: Do you work with a particular audience in mind?

"Shamanic," 26" x 20," finished

“Shamanic,” 26″ x 20,” finished

A:  In general I would answer no, I have no ‘specific’ audience in mind.  But I DO consider the audience in this sense.  As I put finishing touches on a pastel painting, I pay attention to how all of my decisions up to that point lead  the viewer’s eyes around.  I fine tune – brightening some areas, heightening the contrast with what’s next to it, blurring, fading, and pushing back others – all to keep the viewer’s gaze moving around the painting.  Once I am satisfied that it’s as visually exciting as I can make it, I consider the pastel painting finished, ready to be photographed, and driven to Virginia for framing.

Comments are welcome!    

Pearls from artists* # 329

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

“Acolytes,” 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.

A painting is not a joke.  If you aren’t serious, every single time you cheat by not being serious, every time you cut a corner, you are making a record of your stupidity and you won’t be able to take it back.  In the end the painting is the sum of everything you have put into it.  Sometimes it’s a sum of stupidity.  Something stupid can never be erased – if you put down black and afterward you put a red on top to correct it, your red will not be red.

Louise Bourgeois:  Destruction of the Father, Reconstruction of the Father: Writings and interview 1923-1997, edited and with texts by Marie-Laure Bernadac and Hans-Ulrich Obrist

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Pearls from artists* # 323

"The Absence," soft pastel on sandpaper, 26" x 20"

“The Absence,” 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.

Art cannot play to the demand because it inheres precisely in bringing forth the unexpected, the New.  It unearths what normality buries away.  No wonder so many people are afraid of it.

All authentic art, then, is “challenging,” not just the avant-garde.  We cannot omit the fact that some great art has an outer layer that makes it more agreeable to popular taste at a particular moment.  For example, the work of Vincent van Gogh, one of modernisms prime instigators in the visual arts, seems to be everywhere today even though no one saw much to like in it while he was alive.  But while it may be true that on the surface van Gogh’s work is all pretty colors and neat swirls, its immediate appeal is a siren’s song luring us to the depths.  There is a chaos lurking in every print of Starry Night (1889) that livens up a suburban bathroom.  This chaos isn’t something that van Gogh injected into his painting of an otherwise benign night sky.  It is the essence of the starry sky when seen for what it is, that is, when captured outside all comforting clichés that might shield us from its compelling monstrosity.   

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

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Q: What was the first folk art figure you brought back from Mexico?

Mask from Oaxaca

Mask from Oaxaca

A:  In Oaxaca I bought a large carved wooden dragon mask with a Conquistador’s face carved and painted on its back.  My intent was to depict the dragon in a subsequent “Domestic Threats” painting (the series I was working on at the time).  The dragon still hangs in my living room in Alexandria, VA.

This first trip in 1992 was a revelation and marked the start of my on-going love of Mexico:  its people, landscapes, ancient cultures, archaeology, history, art, cuisine, etc. There would be many subsequent trips to Mexico to learn as much as I can about this endlessly interesting cradle of civilization.

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