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Pearls from artists* # 482

One of Viscarra’s masks at MUSEF La Paz

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

Devils’ heads with daring and disturbing eyes, twisted horns, abundant grey hair and hooked noses hang on the blue walls of Antonio Viscarra’s house. Long benches covered with old, multi-colored cushions in Bolivian motifs surround the concrete floor of the small room. Several dozen of these hanging faces, which seem to watch in silence from the darkness, are ready to be used in festivals and traditional dances.

The maskmaker or “maestro” as he is called, lives [deceased now] in the area of Avenida Buenos Aires, far from the political and administrative center of the city of La Paz, but rather at the very center of the other La Paz (Chuquiago in the Aymara language) where many peasant immigrants have settled, and which for that reason, is the center of the city’s popular culture.

Viscarra is the oldest creator of masks in La Paz, and his work has helped to conserve, and at the same time to rejuvenate, the tradition of using masks in Bolivian dances. If economic progress and alienation have contributed to the excessive adornment of new masks with glass and other foreign materials, Viscarra, in an attempt to recover the distinctive, original forms, has gone back to the 100-year-old molds used by his grandfather. His work has been exhibited in Europe, in the United States and in South America, Most important, however, is that Viscarra is transmitting his knowledge to his children, ensuring that this form of authentic Bolivian culture will never die.

…Viscarra inherited the old mask molds from his grandfather and was told to take good care of them because some day he might need them. After keeping them carefully put away for 50 years, the maestro used them again for an exhibition of masks prepared in 1984, slowly recreating the original masks, beautiful in their simplicity, in their delicate craftsmanship and in their cultural value. In this way, the masks which emerged from the old molds are regaining their past prestige and importance.

Antonio Viscarra, The mask Maker by Wendy McFarren in Masks of the Bolivian Andes, Editorial Quipus and Banco Mercantil

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Pearls from artists* # 456

“Avenger,” 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.

[Philip] Guston’s biography provides ample proof of his political convictions – his loathing of the Klan, of Richard Nixon, of violence against the powerless. It also leaves no doubt as to his Ozymandian artistic ambitions, which had a drive and a logic of their own. Yoking the ambitions to the convictions was, he found, insipid: “What bores me,” he said in 1974. “is to see an illustration of my thought… I want to make something I never saw before and be changed by it. So that I go into the studio and I see these things up and I think, Jesus, did I do that? What a strange thing.”

Susan Tallman in Phillip Guston’s Discomfort Zone in The New York Review of Books, Jan. 14, 2021

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Pearls from artists* # 441

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

The most perennially popular category of art is the cheerful, pleasant, and pretty kind: meadows in spring, the shade of trees on hot summer days, pastoral landscapes, smiling children. This can be deeply troubling to people of taste and intelligence.   

… The worries about prettiness are twofold. First, pretty pictures are alleged to feed sentimentality. Sentimentality is a symptom of insufficient engagement with complexity, by which one really means problems. The pretty picture seems to suggest that in order to make life nice, one merely has to brighten up the apartment with a depiction of some flowers. If we were to ask the picture what is wrong with the world, it might be taken as saying ‘You don’t have enough Japanese water gardens’ – a response that appears to ignore all the more urgent problems that confront humanity (primarily economic, but also moral, political, and sexual). The very innocence and simplicity of the picture seems to mitigate against any attempt to improve life as a whole. Secondly, there is the related fear that prettiness will numb us and leave us insufficiently critical and alert to the injustices surrounding us.

Alain de Botton and John Armstrong in Art as Therapy 

Comments are welcome!

Q: Can you briefly explain how the Bolivian Carnival masks you depict in your work are used?

Museum of Ethnography and Folklore, La Paz, Bolivia

Museum of Ethnography and Folklore, La Paz, Bolivia

A:  The masks depict important figures from Bolivian folklore traditions and are used in Carnival celebrations in the town of Oruro.  Carnival occurs every year in late February or early March.  I had hoped to visit again this year, but political instability in Bolivia made a trip too risky.

Carnival in Oruro revolves around three great dances.  The dance of “The Incas” records the conquest and death of Atahualpa, the Inca emperor when the Spanish arrived in 1532.  “The Morenada” music and dance style from the Bolivian Andes was possibly inspired by the suffering of African slaves brought to work in the silver mines of Potosi.  The dance of “The Diablada” depicts Saint Michael fighting against Lucifer and the seven deadly sins.  Lucifer was disguised in seven different masks derived from medieval Christian symbols aor totemic animals that became nd mostly devoid of pre-Columbian elements (except that became attached to Christianity after the Conquest).  Typically, in these dances the cock represents Pride, the dog Envy, the pig Greed, the female devil Lust, etc.

Comments are welcome!  

Pearls from artists* # 368

Leonora Carrington at Di Donna Galleries, NYC

Leonora Carrington at Di Donna Galleries, NYC

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

Whether we look to the contradictory functions that people are asked to fulfill today – devoted parent and loyal employee, faithful spouse and emancipated libertine, mature adult and eternal child – or to the ways in which identities are disbursed across divergent political forums, information systems, and communication networks, the same observation holds:  we are infinitely divided.  What is called an individual today is an abstract assemblage of fragments.  Phone calls, emails, voice mails, blogs, videos and photos, surveillance tapes, banking records:  the body is dwarfed by the virtual tendrils that shoot out if it through time and space, any of which is likely to claim to be the real “you” as you are.  Only the imaginal mind can lead us out of the maze, with art providing the symbols that mark the way to the elusive essence that truly defines us.

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

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Pearls from artists* # 352

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

“Provocateur,” 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.

The jester was certainly a key player in medieval court politics.  His power, however, was commensurate with his acknowledged irrelevance to the state apparatus.  As the eternal outsider, ridiculed or at best ignored by the elite unless he was actually entertaining them, he acquired the right to speak truths that others would speak at their peril.  Yet if the imprudent king simply saw the Fool as a source of amusement, the wise king saw in his antics and wordplay the pattern of the past, present, and future.  In the same way, art is the joker in the hand that was dealt to humanity.  Nothing is easier than dismissing it as a frivolity, and yet those who meet it on its own ground gain access to the hidden facets of their situation.  It is by virtue of its very separateness, its position outside the realm of the useful and the practical, that art reveals the Real.  Paradoxically, art has political value only when appraised outside of any political framework.       

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

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 351

Barbara at work on "The Orator"

Barbara at work on “The Orator”

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

That art is apolitical does not mean that artists themselves can be excused from the political responsibilities that fall on others.  It means rather that as a manifestation of eternal psychic force, each work of art goes farther and deeper than the limited perspective of any individual mind, including that of its author.

No artist can predict how his work will affect the world… The artist invests his entire personality into the work, but he does so as a means of expressing a vision that is transpersonal.  Everything that makes him what he is informs the work, but the final result transcends all personal contingencies.    

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

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 314

"He Just Stood There Grinning," soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

“He Just Stood There Grinning,” 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.

For Leonora Carrington and many of her ‘sister’ surrealists, surrealism provided the intellectual, political and artistic milieu that enabled them to come into their own as artists and writers, and to gain recognition for their work in the wider world.  Although some of these women had accepted their roles as muses in the lives of male artists, none believed that life as a muse trumped life as an artist.  Asked in 1983 how she felt about the male surrealists’ view of women as muses, Leonora offered her testy, if retrospective rejoinder:  ‘I thought it was bullshit… I didn’t have time to be anyone’s muse… I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist.’  It is as artists and friends that we remember the women of surrealism today.   

Whitney Chadwick in The Militant Muse:  Love, War, and the Women of Surrealism

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Pearls from artists* # 199

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

“Trio,” 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.

Writers, like all artists, are concerned to represent reality, to create a more absolute and complete reality than reality itself.  They must, if they are to accomplish this, assume a moral position, a clearly conceived political, social, and philosophical attitude; in consequence, their beliefs are, of course, going to find their way into their work.  What artists believe, however, is of secondary importance, ancillary to the work itself.  A writer survives in spite of his beliefs.  Lawrence will be read whatever one thinks of his notions on sex.  Dante is read in the Soviet Union.

A work of art, on the other hand, has a representative and expressive function.  In this representation the author’s ideas, his judgments, the author himself, are engaged with reality.   

Alberto Moravia in Writers at Work:  The Paris Review Interviews First Series, edited and with an introduction by Malcolm Cowley

Comments are welcome!

Q: Why don’t you make political art?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  I have little interest in dealing with political events in my work because these events come and go.  They have a short shelf life.  Fine art based on current events quickly loses its context and becomes outdated and irrelevant.

I prefer art that is timeless.  My intention is to create personal work about deeper psychological issues and the human condition.  Done well, personal work is more likely to speak to and stay with an audience long after the news cycle has moved on.

Comments are welcome!

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