Blog Archives

Q: What is more important to you, the subject of the painting or the way it is executed?

"Sam and Bobo,"soft pastel on sandpaper, 36" x 31", 1989

“Sam and Bobo,”soft pastel on sandpaper, 36″ x 31”, 1989

A:  In a sense my subject matter – folk art, masks, carved wooden animals, papier mâché figures, toys – chose me.  With it I have complete freedom to experiment with color, pattern, design, and other formal properties.  In other words, although I am a representational artist, I can do whatever I want since the depicted objects need not look like real things.  Execution is everything now.

This was not always the case.  I started out in the 1980s as a traditional photorealist, except I worked in pastel on sandpaper.  (For example, see the detail in Sam’s sweater above).  As I slowly learned and mastered my craft, depicting three-dimensional people and objects hyper-realistically in two dimensions on a piece of sandpaper was thrilling… until one day it wasn’t.  

My personal brand of photorealism became too easy, too limiting, too repetitive, and SO boring to execute!  In 1989 I had at last extricated myself from a dull career as a Naval officer working in Virginia at the Pentagon.  Then after much planning, in 1997 I was a full-time professional artist working in New York.  

Certainly I was not going to throw away this opportunity by making boring photorealist art.  I wanted to do so much more as an artist:  to experiment with techniques, with composition, to see what I could make pastel do, to let my imagination play a larger role in the paintings I made. I was ready to devote the time and do whatever it took to push my art further.

After spending the early creative years perfecting my technical skills, I built on what I had learned.  I began breaking rules – slowly at first – in order to push myself onward.  And I continue to do so, never knowing what’s next.  Hopefully, in 2018 my art is richer for it.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What has been your scariest experience as an artist?

"Between," soft pastel on sandpaper, 20" x 26"

“Between,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 20″ x 26″

A:  It was the approximately six months in 2007 when I finished the “Domestic Threats” series and was blocked, certain that a strong body of work was behind me, yet not knowing what in the world to do next!  For a professional artist who had been working non-stop for 21 years, this was a profoundly painful, confusing, and disorienting time.  I remember continuing to force myself to go to the studio and for lack of anything much to do there, spending long hours reading and thinking about art.

Eventually after all of this reflection, I had an epiphany.  “Between,” with drastically simplified imagery, was the first in a new series called, “Black Paintings.”  I like to think this series includes work that is considerably richer and more profound than the previous “Domestic Threats.”


Co
mments are welcome! 

Q: Please speak a little about the history of pastel.

Some of Barbara's soft pastels

Some of Barbara’s soft pastels

A:  Pastel has been in use for five hundred years.  Its invention is attributed to the German painter, Johann Thiele, in the 16th century, followed by Venetian artist, Rosalba Carriera, who was the first to use it consistently.  Edgar Degas, the most prolific user of pastel and its great champion, was followed by many artists who used varying techniques.

Degas’ subject matter included ballet dancers, laundresses, milliners, and denizens of the Parisian demimonde.  The pure hues of pastel, plus its direct application, made it his preferred medium.  Rosalba Carriera, a much-admired portrait artist, revolutionized the world of pastel by developing a wider range of colors, expanding pastel’s availability and usefulness.  Mary Cassatt’s pastel portraits of children and family life provided her with a steady income while living in Paris.  American painter William Merritt Chase used pastel to explore plein air painting.  Pastel’s portability and rich colors made it ideal for outdoor landscapes and for capturing light.

Comments are welcome!

Start/finish of “The Orator,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″

Start

Start

Finish

Finish

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 265

"Colloquium," soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38" image, 70" x 50" framed

“Colloquium,” soft pastel on 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.

I remember hearing Adolph Gottlieb on a panel once at NYU, and Adolph said, in effect – I’m not quoting him directly – “I don’t paint for the masses.  I paint for the elite.  The masses are not interested in what I do.  They won’t understand this kind of painting that I do, and it won’t come through to them.”

I understood perfectly what he meant, and I was totally sympathetic.  But the audience, which was not quite an audience of proletariat workers, but an audience of school of education, art teachers, or art teachers to be, were going out of their heads with rage just at the mention of the elite.

I think there is an elite, and there always was an elite for painting or good music or for good literature.  For a long time there has been, and I don’t see anything wrong with it.  What it means to a lot of people, the elite is the wealthy or something like that.  Adolph, I don’t think, was referring to an elite of the wealthy, where the people run the government or something like that, but to those people who are concerned and interested in the most sophisticated, meaningful painting there is.     

The Art Life:  On Creativity and Career by Stuart Horodner

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 262

"Big Deal," soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

“Big Deal,” 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.

It may have been easier to paint bison on the cave walls long ago than to write this (or any other) sentence today.  Other people, in other times and places, had some robust institutions to shore them up:  witness the Church, the clan, ritual, tradition.  It’s easy to imagine that artists doubted their calling less when working in the service of God than when working in the service of self.

Not so today.  Today almost no one feels shored up.  Today artwork does not emerge from secure common ground:  the bison on the wall is someone else’s magic.  Making art now means working in the face of uncertainty; it means living with doubt and contradiction, doing something no one much cares whether you do, and for which there may be neither audience nor reward.  Making the work you want to make means setting aside these doubts so that you may see clearly what you have done, and thereby see where to go next.  Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment within the work itself.  This is not the Age of Faith, Truth, and Certainty.

David Bayles and Ted Orlando in Art & Fear:  Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of ARTMAKING

Comments are welcome!

Start/Finish of “Conundrum,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″ image, 50″ x 70″ framed

Rough charcoal drawing on sandpaper

Rough charcoal drawing on sandpaper

Finished

Finished

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 256

"Offering," soft pastel on sandpaper, 20" x 26"

“Offering,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 20″ x 26″

* 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 saw what skill was needed, and persistence – how one must bend one’s spine, like a hoop, over the page – the long labor.  I saw the difference between doing nothing, or doing a little, and the redemptive act of true effort.  Reading, then writing, then desiring to write well, shaped in me the most joyful of circumstances – a passion for work.    

Mary Oliver in Upstream: Selected Essays

Comments are welcome!

Start/Finish of “The Ancestors,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″ image, 70″ x 50″ framed

Beginning

Beginning

Finished

Finished

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I am putting a few finishing touches on “Conundrum,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″.

Comments  are welcome!