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Q: Why do you make art?

“Why Do I Make Art” by Ursula von Rydingsvard

“Why Do I Make Art” by Ursula von Rydingsvard

A:  Last spring I viewed Ursula von Rydingsvard’s exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.  One thing that stayed with me is her wall text, “Why Do I Make Art by Ursula von Rydingsvard” in which she listed a few dozen benefits that art-making has brought to her life.  

I want to share some of my own personal reasons here, in no particular order.  My list keeps changing, but these are true at least for today. 

1.   Because I love the entire years-long creative process – from foreign travel whereby I discover new source material, to deciding what I will make, to the months spent in the studio realizing my ideas, to packing up my newest pastel painting and bringing it to my Virginia framer’s shop, to seeing the framed piece hanging on a collector’s wall, to staying in touch with collectors over the years and learning how their relationship to the work changes.

2.   Because I love walking into my studio in the morning and seeing all of that color!  No matter what mood I am in, my spirit is immediately uplifted.  

3.   Because my studio is my favorite place to be… in the entire world.  I’d say that it is my most precious creation.  It’s taken more than twenty-two years to get it this way.  I hope I never have to move!

4.   Because I get to listen to my favorite music all day or to Public Radio stations.

5.   Because when I am working in the studio, if I want, I can tune out the world and all of it’s urgent problems.  The same goes for whatever personal problems I am experiencing.

6.   Because I am devoted to my medium.  How I use pastel continually evolves.  It’s exciting to keep learning about its properties and to see what new techniques will develop.

7.   Because I have been given certain gifts and abilities and that entails a sacred obligation to USE them.  I could not live with myself were I to do otherwise.

8.   Because art-making gives meaning and purpose to my life.  I never wake up in the morning wondering, how should I spend the day?  I have important work to do and a place to do it.  I know this is how I am supposed to be spending my time on earth.

9.   Because I have an enviable commute.  To get to my studio it’s a thirty-minute walk, often on the High Line early in the morning before throngs of tourists have arrived.

10.  Because life as an artist is never easy.  It’s a continual challenge to keep forging ahead, but the effort is also never boring.  

11.  Because each day in the studio is different from all the rest. 

12.  Because I love the physicality of it.  I stand all day.  I’m always moving and staying fit.

13.  Because I have always been a thinker more than a talker.  I enjoy and crave solitude.  I am often reminded of the expression, “She who travels the farthest, travels alone.”  In my work I travel anywhere.

14.  Because spending so much solitary time helps me understand what I think and feel and to reflect on the twists and turns of my unexpected and fascinating life.

15.  Because I learn about the world.  I read and do research that gets incorporated into the work.

16.  Because I get to make all the rules.  I set the challenges and the goals, then decide what is succeeding and what isn’t.  It is working life at its most free.

17.  Because I enjoy figuring things out for myself instead of being told what to do or how to think.

18.  Because despite enormous obstacles, I am still able to do it.  Art-making has been the focus of my life for thirty-three years – I was a late bloomer – and I intend to continue as long as possible.

19.  Because I have been through tremendous tragedy and deserve to spend the rest of my life doing exactly what I love.  The art world has not caught up yet, but so be it.  This is my passion and my life’s work and nothing will change that.

20.  Because thanks to the internet and via social media, my work can be seen in places I have never been to and probably will never go.

21.  Because I would like to be remembered.  The idea of leaving art behind for future generations to appreciate and enjoy is appealing.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 356

Some of Barbara’s pastels

Some of Barbara’s pastels

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

Science is concerned with the general, the abstract, and the knowable.  In contrast, art deals with the particular, the unknowable, the singular.  This applies not just to the content of artistic works but also to the way this content is received.  Even in the case of a film or concert attended by large numbers of people, the artistic experience remains a fundamentally solitary one.  Each one of us lives the work from the work alone.  Whatever sense of togetherness accompanies the experience comes precisely from the fact that, faced with the singularity of the aesthetic moment, each percipient feels his aloneness before the radical mystery that enfolds us all.  Wherever an act of creation is shared with others, then, there is individuation – not just for the author of the work but for the audience too.  The singularity of art awakens us to our own singularity, and through it to the singularity in the Other.  I have argued that artifice unifies by imposing a univocal image that replicates itself indefinitely in each spectator.  True art tears the spectral out of the mass of sameness, calling forth from the numberless crowd a new people and a new communion.  

Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice:  A treatise, Critique, and Call to Action 

Comments are welcome!

Q: Do you think artists should post prices on their websites?

Screenshot of Barbara’s homepage

Screenshot of Barbara’s homepage

A:  It depends on what the purpose and objectives of a particular artist’s website are.  I use my website to document all of the work, the process, exhibitions, and press in one central place.  I do not list prices.  If someone is interested in more information, including prices, they can easily email or call me. 

I have two assistants who help with social media and my online presence continues to grow.  Many of my available pastel paintings are included on commercial sites like Artsy.  Current prices are listed there.

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! 

Q: What historical art movement do you most identify with?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  I’d have to say that I identify most with surrealism, although my work does not exactly fit into any particular art historical movement.  When I was first finding my way as an artist, I read everything I could find about surrealism in art and in literature.  This research still res0nates deeply and is a tremendous influence on my studio practice.  Elements of surrealism DO fit my work.  Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:

Surrealism is a cultural movement that began in the early 20s and is best known for its visual artworks and writings.  The aim was to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality.”  Artists painted unnerving, illogical scenes with photographic precision, created strange creatures from everyday objects and developed painting techniques that allowed the unconscious to express itself.  

Surrealist works feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur; however, many Surrealist artists and writers regard their work as an expression of the philosophical movement first and foremost, with the works being an artifact.  Leader Andre Breton was explicit in his assertion that Surrealism was, above all, a revolutionary movement.

I hope to expand on this in a future post.

Comments are welcome!            

Q: What is the one painting that you never want to sell?

"No Cure for Insomnia," pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

“No Cure for Insomnia,” pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″

A:  There are two:  “Myth Meets Dream” and “No Cure for Insomnia.”  Both are part of my “Domestic Threats” series and were breakthroughs at the time I made them.  They are relatively early works – the first from 1993, the latter from 1999 – and were important in my artistic development. 

“Myth Meets Dream” is the earliest pastel painting in which I depict Mexican figures.  It includes two brightly painted, carved wooden animals from Oaxaca sent to me in 1992 by my sister-in-law.  I have spoken about them before.  These figures were the beginning of my ongoing fascination with Mexico. 

“No Cure for Insomnia” includes a rare self-portrait and is set in my late aunt’s sixth-floor walkup on West 13th Street, where I lived when I moved to New York in 1997.  My four years there were very productive.  

Comments are welcome!  

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I am still working on “Charade.”  This pastel painting has given me so many problems!  In particular, I have not resolved the figure in the middle.  l am not happy with the mouth and the entire figure needs more detail.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 157

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.

Only passion gives us a powerful emotion, a supreme strength and the enduring energy to fulfill our duty.  It provides a stimulus, giving us hope and courage as well as stamina.  The strength, love and joy passion gives us have no limitations.  They are what drive us to sacrifice everything in order to achieve that which our passion requires.  Passion is like a bribe from the gods, its great enthusiasm enticing us to do a particular work and to enjoy that more than anything else, without thought of the sacrifices and consequences.

Samuel Adoquei in Origin of Inspiration:  Seven Short Essays for Creative People 

Comments are welcome! 

Q: Would you talk about your use of Mexican and Guatemalan folk art as a convenient way to study formal properties such as color, shape, pattern, composition, etc. in your pastel paintings?

Models, reference photograph, and pastel painting in progress

Models, reference photograph, and pastel painting in progress

A:  For me an interesting visual property of these objects is that they readily present themselves as a vehicle for exploring formal artistic properties, like color, pattern, shape, etc. especially compared to my earlier subject matter:  hyper-realistic portraits and still-lifes.  Intent as I was on creating verisimilitude in the earlier work, there was little room for experimentation.  

Many Mexican and Guatemalan folk art objects are wildly painted and being a lover of color, their brilliant colors and patterns are  what initially attracted me.  As a painter I am free to use their actual appearance as my starting point.  I photograph them out-of-focus and through colored gels in order to change their appearance and make them strange, enacting my own particular version of “rendering the familiar strange.”  Admittedly these objects are not so familiar to begin with. 

When I make a pastel painting I look at my reference photograph and I also look at the objects, positioning them within eye-shot of my easel.  There is no need whatsoever to be faithful to their actual appearance so my imagination takes over.  As I experiment with thousands of soft pastels, with shape, with pattern, with composition, and all the rest, I have one goal in mind – to create the best pastel-on-sandpaper painting I am capable of making. 

Comments are welcome!         

Q: Would you talk about how the Judas figures you depict in your pastel paintings function in Mexico?

Some Judases

Some Judases

A:  Here’s a good explanation from a website called “Mexican Folk Art Guide”:

“La quema de Judas or the Judas burning in Mexico is a celebration held on Sabado de Gloria (Holy Saturday).  Papier mache figures symbolizing Judas Iscariot stuffed with fireworks are exploded in local plazas in front of cheerful spectators. 

The Judases exploded in public spaces can measure up to 5 meters, while 30 cm ones can be found with a firework in their back to explode at home.

In Mexico la quema de Judas dates from the beginning of the Spanish colony when the Judas effigies were made with hay and rags and burned.  Later as paper became available and the fireworks techniques arrived, thanks to the Spanish commerce route from the Philippines, the Judases were made out of cardboard, stuffed with fireworks, and exploded.

After the Independence War the celebration lost its religious character and became a secular activity.  The Judas effigies were stuffed with candies, bread, and cigarettes to attract the crowds into the business [establishment] that sponsored the Judas. 

Judas was then depicted as a devil and identified with a corrupt official, or any character that would harm people.  In 1849 a new law stipulated that it was forbidden to relate a Judas effigy with any person by putting a name on it or dressing it in a certain way to be identified with a particular person.”                                     

This is why whenever I bring home a Judas figure from Mexico, I feel like I have rescued it from a fire-y death!

Comments are welcome!

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