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Pearls from artists* # 527

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.

Vocation was originally a religious term. The word comes from the Latin vocatio, which means a summons, a call. To be a priest, a monk, or a nun is to accept a calling – a vocation. The sense of an imperative – of an activity that’s a necessity, an inevitability – remains very much part of the meaning of the word today. A creative vocation isn’t a job. It’s a calling, even if for most modern artists the summons is an inner necessity, not the call of some divine figure or force. Even an artist as determinedly secular as Picasso saw echoes of religious vocation in his experience as an artist. When his mistress Francoise Gilot, wondering at his concentration and stamina, asked him if when he was painting “it didn’t tire him to stand so long in one spot,” this was his response: “No. That’s why painters live so long. While I work, I leave my body outside the door, the way Moslems take off their shoes before entering the mosque.” For creative spirits the studio or stage – or wherever they do their work – is a place apart. They may recoil from describing this as a sacred space, but there’s no question that these spaces have a special significance.

Jed Perl in Authority and Freedom: A Defense of the Arts

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Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

A: I began a new 26” x 20” “Bolivianos” pastel-on-sandpaper painting a few days ago.

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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.

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Pearls from artists* # 491

Barbara’s studio with work 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.

We look at ancient Egyptian painting today and may find it slightly comic, but what the Egyptians were trying to do with the figure was reveal the various aspects of the person’s body in the most characteristic aspect. The face is in profile because that reveals the most about the person’s face, but the shoulders are not in profile, they’re facing the viewer, because that’s the most revealing angle for the shoulders. The hips are not in profile, but the feet are. It gives a strange, twisted effect, but it was natural to the Egyptians. They were painting essences, and in order to paint an essence you have to paint it from its most characteristic angle. So they would simply combine the various characteristic essences of the human body. This was a piece of spiritual art. It wasn’t trying to reproduce photographic reality, it was trying to reproduce and combine all the essential features of a person within one figure.

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

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Pearls from artists* # 485

New York City

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

[Michael] Ondaatje: It’s an odd thing: I’ve heard you talk about the importance of ambiguity in film, and the need to save that ambiguous quality which exists in a book or painting, and which you think a film does not often have. And at the same time in a mix you are trying to “perfect” that ambiguity.

[Walter] Murch: I know. It’s a paradox. And one of the most fruitful paradoxes, I think, is that even when the film is finished, there should be unsolved problems. Because there’s another stage, beyond the finished film: when the audience views it. You want the audience to be co-conspirators in the creation of this work, just as much as the editor or the mixers or the cameraman or actors are. If by some chemistry you actually did remove all ambiguity in the final mix – even though it had been ambiguous up to that point – I think you would do the film a disservice. But the paradox is that you have to approach every problem as if it’s desperately important to solve it. You can’t say, I don’t want to solve this because it’s got to be ambiguous. If you do that, then there’s a sort of hemorrhaging of the organism.

O: And more of a confusion.

M: Yes. I keep thinking about it, and it’s a wonderful dilemma: you have to acknowledge that there must be unsolved problems at each stage. As hard as you work, you must have this secret, unspoken hope that one very significant problem will remain unsolved. But you never know what that will be until the film is done. You can almost define a film by the problem it poses, that it can’t answer itself, that it asks the audience to solve.

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

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Pearls from artists* # 477

Photo: Izzy Nova
Photo: Izzy Nova

*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 he produced thousands of works of art in his pitifully short time on earth, Vincent [van Gogh] – as, following his own example, we shall call him – failed to sell a single painting in his lifetime, despite the fact that his brother Theo was a prominent Paris art dealer who, among other business coups, made a fortune for Claude Monet. Although he suffered through periods of deepest doubt, Vincent knew that one day his work would be recognized for its true worth. All the same, he could not have dreamed that his jarringly revolutionary paintings would one day rise so high in popular regard.

John Banville in His Own Worst Enemy, The New York Review of Books, May 13, 2021

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Pearls from artists* # 471

“Shamanic,” 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.

Impresario Peter Sellars remarks how “Vermeer [spent] hours, days, and weeks painting a small corner of a small room in an act of ritualistically informed meditation that leads to new possibilities of awareness and love.” The time of making, Sellars adds, influences the time of viewing: “The act [of painting] itself opens up and refines consciousness by slowing down time as it focuses the eye.” Sellars’ language of ritual and meditation anticipates my purposes. He associates painting not only with materiality but also with spiritual practices – indeed, he yokes the two: “The act of painting has always been charged with shamanic energies. Using bits of animal bone, hair, and sinew, mixing them with earth, and applying them steadily and with great concentration to a cave wall, a parchment, or a human face is an act of calling and recalling.”

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

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Q: What’s on the easel today?

In progress

A: I continue slowly working on an untitled 58” x 38” pastel-on-sandpaper painting that is part of the acclaimed “Bolivianos” series.

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Pearls from artists* # 460

Recent pastel paintings 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.

Precious realm of painting! That silent power that speaks at first only to the eyes and then seizes and captivates every faculty of the soul! Here is your real spirit; here is your own true beauty, beautiful painting, so much insulted, so much misunderstood and delivered up to fools who exploit you. But there are still hearts ready to welcome you devoutly, souls who will no more be satisfied with mere phrases than with inventions and clever artifices. You have only to be seen in your masculine and simple vigor to give pleasure that is pure and absolute. I confess that I have worked logically, I, who have no love for logical painting. I see now that my turbulent mind needs activity, that it must break out and try a hundred different ways before reaching the goal towards which I am always straining. There is an old leaven working in me, some black depth that must be appeased. Unless I am writhing like a serpent in the coils of a pythoness I am cold. I must recognize this and accept it, and to do so is the greatest happiness. Everything good that I have ever done has come about in this way. No more ‘Don Quixotes’ and such unworthy things!

The Journal of Eugene Delacroix edited by Hubert Wellington

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Pearls from artists* 457

Detail (in progress): “Raconteur,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58” x 38”

*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 Italy on the Prixe de Rome, he [Phillip Guston] traveled, studied Piero and Tiepolo and drew everywhere. His marks bunched up in quavering confederations and eventually left their subject matter behind. The trouble with figurative art, he concluded, was that it “vanishes into recognition.” Remove the recognizable and you can begin to see the push and pull of impulse, recanting, and reconfiguration that constitute painting and, by extension, life itself.

Susan Tallman in Philip Guston’s Discomfort Zone, The New York Review of Books, January 14, 2021

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