Blog Archives

Pearls from artists* # 249

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.

Interviewer:  Can a writer learn style?

Capote:  No, I don’t think that style is consciously arrived at, any more than one arrives at the color of one’s eyes.  After all, your style is you.  At the end the personality of  a writer  has so much to do with the work.  The personality has to be humanly there.  Personality is a debased word, I know, but it’s what I mean.  The writer’s individual humanity, his word or gesture towards the world, has to appear almost like a character that makes contact with the reader.  If the personality is vague or confused or merely literary, ca ne va pas.  Faulkner, Mc Cullers – they project their personality at once.

Truman Capote in Writers at Work:  The Paris Review Interviews First Series, edited, and with an introduction by Malcolm Crowley

Comments are welcome!

Q: Have any artists influenced you technically?

Barbara at work, Photo: Marianne Barcellona

Barbara at work, Photo: Marianne Barcellona

A:  I’d have to say no one, because my technique of using soft pastel on sandpaper is largely self-invented and it continues to slowly evolve.  I apply up to thirty layers of pigment, blending it with my fingers, and creating new colors directly on the sandpaper.  It is a rather meticulous process that suits my personality.

My unique way of applying and mixing pastel is a richly complex science of color.  This intricate technique is one of the reasons that my pastel paintings cannot be forged by anyone.

Every great artist throughout history has invented their own techniques and created a world that is uniquely theirs, with its own iconography, its own laws, and its own specific concerns.  Artists who are most worthy of the name create their own tasks and make and break their own rules.  

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 145

 

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

“Stalemate,” 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.

It is a mistake for a sculptor or a painter to speak or write very often about his work.  It releases tension needed for his job.  By trying to express his aims with rounded-off logical exactness, he can easily become a theorist whose actual work is only a caged-in exposition of conceptions evolved in terms of logic and words. 

But though the nonlogical, instinctive, subconscious part of the mind must play its part in his work, he also has a conscious mind which is not inactive.  The artist works with a concentration of his whole personality, and the conscious part of it resolves conflicts, organizes memories, and prevents him from trying to walk in two directions at the same time.

Henry Moore:  Notes on Sculpture in The Creative Process, edited by Brewster Ghiselin

Comments are welcome!   

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your process? What happens before you even begin a pastel painting?

Barbara in Bali (far right)

Barbara in Bali (far right)

A:  My process is extremely slow and labor-intensive. 

First, there is foreign travel – often to Mexico, Guatemala or someplace in Asia – to find the cultural objects – masks, carved wooden animals, paper mâché figures, and toys – that are my subject matter.  I search the local markets, bazaars, and mask shops for these folk art objects. I look for things that are old, that look like they have a history, and were probably used in religious festivals of some kind. Typically, they are colorful, one-of-a- kind objects that have lots of inherent personality. How they enter my life and how I get them back to my New York studio is an important part of my art-making practice. 

My working methods have changed dramatically over the nearly thirty years that I have been an artist. My current process is a much simplified version of how I used to work.  As I pared down my imagery in the current series, “Black Paintings,” my creative process quite naturally pared down, too. 

One constant is that I have always worked in series with each pastel painting leading quite naturally to the next.  Another is that I always set up a scene, plan exactly how to light and photograph it, and work with a 20″ x 24″ photograph as the primary reference material. 

In the setups I look for eye-catching compositions and interesting colors, patterns, and shadows.  Sometimes I make up a story about the interaction that is occurring between the “actors,” as I call them.

In the “Domestic Threats” series I photographed the scene with a 4″ x 5″ Toyo Omega view camera.  In my “Gods and Monsters” series I shot rolls of 220 film using a Mamiya 6. I still like to use an old analog camera for fine art work, although I have been rethinking this practice.   

Nowadays the first step is to decide which photo I want to make into a painting (currently I have a backlog of photographs to choose from) and to order a 19 1/2″ x 19 1/2″ image (my Mamiya 6 shoots square images) printed on 20″ x 24″ paper.  They recently closed, but I used to have the prints made at Manhattan Photo on West 20th Street in New York.  Now I go to Duggal.  Typically I have in mind the next two or three paintings that I want to create.

Once I have the reference photograph in hand, I make a preliminary tonal charcoal sketch on a piece of white drawing paper.  The sketch helps me think about how to proceed and points out potential problem areas ahead. 

Only then am I ready to start actually making the painting. 

Comments are welcome!    

Q: Can you speak about what draws you to the Mexican and Guatemalan figures that you collect?

Shop in Panajachel, Guatemala, Photo:  Donna Tang

Shop in Panajachel, Guatemala, Photo: Donna Tang

A:  I search the markets and bazaars of Mexico, Guatemala, and elsewhere for folk art objects – masks, carved wooden animals, papier mache figures, children’s toys – to bring back to New York to paint and photograph. Color is very important – the brighter and the more eye-catching the patterns are on these objects the better – plus they must be unique and have lots of personality. I try not to buy anything mass-produced or obviously made for the tourist trade. The objects must have been used or otherwise look like they’ve had a life (i.e., been part of religious festivities) to draw my attention. How and where each one comes into my possession is an important part of my creative process.

Finding, buying, and getting them back to the U.S. is always circuitous, but that, too, is part of the process, an adventure, and often a good story. Here’s an example. In 2009 I was in a small town on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, called Panajachel. After returning from a boat ride across the lake, my friends and I were walking back to our hotel when we discovered a wonderful mask store. I spent some time looking around, made my selections, and was ready to buy five exquisitely-made standing wooden figures, when I learned that Tomas, the store owner, did not accept credit cards. I was heart-broken and thought, “Oh, no, I’ll have to leave them behind.” However, thanks to my good friend, Donna, whose Spanish is much more fluent than mine, the three of us brain-stormed until finally, Tomas had an idea. I could pay for the figures at the hotel up the block and in a few days when the hotel was paid by the credit card company, the hotel would pay Tomas. Fabulous! Tomas, Donna, and I walked to the hotel, where the transaction was made and the first hurdle was overcome. Working out the packing and shipping arrangements took another hour or two, but during that time Tomas and I became friends and exchanged telephone numbers (the store didn’t even have a telephone so he gave me the phone number of the post office next door, saying that when I called, he could easily run next door!). Most surprisingly, the package was waiting for me in New York when I returned home from Guatemala.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 57

Studio corner

Studio corner

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

You are talented and creative.  You rarely block, and when you do block you know how to move yourself along.  Your moods are not incapacitating and you haven’t stepped over into madness.  Your personality is sufficiently integrated that your necessary arrogance doesn’t prevent you from having successful relationships, your nonconformity hasn’t made you a pariah,  and your skepticism hasn’t bred in you a nihilistic darkness.  You work happily in isolation but can also move into the world and have a life.  You have, in short, met the challenges posed so far.

Are you home free?  Unfortunately not.  The next challenges you face are as great as any posed so far.  They are the multiple challenges of doing the business of art:  making money, developing a career, acknowledging and making the most of your limited opportunities, living with compromise, dealing with mass taste and commercialism, negotiating the marketplace, and making personal sense of the mechanics and metaphysics of the business environment of art.

Many artists grow bitter in this difficult arena.  Many an artist flounders.  Only the rare artist sits himself down to examine these matters, for they are painful to consider.  But you have no choice but to examine them.  If you are an artist, you want an audience.  And if you want an audience, you must do business.

Comments are welcome!  

Eric Maisel in A Life in the Arts

Pearls from artists* # 40

Balinese boy in Hindu dress

Balinese boy in Hindu dress

* 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 film is a succession of snapshots more or less posed, and it only very rarely gives us the illusion of the unexpected and rare.  Ninety films out of a hundred are merely interminable poses.  One doesn’t premeditate a photograph like a murder or a work of art.

Photography is rather like those huge American department stores where you find all you want:  old master paintings, locomotives, playing cards, tempests, gardens, opera glasses, pretty girls.  But steer clear at all costs of the floorwalkers.  They are terrible chatterbox bores who have no idea what they are saying.

A photographer for the Daily Mirror said to me:  “The most beautiful photos I’ve ever taken were on a day I had forgotten my film.”

That photographer is a poet, perhaps, but quite certainly an imbecile.  The photographer’s personality?

Obviously each of them blows his nose in his own fashion.  But the most successful photographs are not those that required the most trouble.

That would be just too easy.

Carlo Rim in On the Snapshot

Comments are welcome!