Blog Archives

Q: What makes you drawn to face masks?

“Raconteur,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58” x 38,” in progress

A: For me a mask is so much more than a mask.  It is almost a living thing with its own soul and with a unique history.  I always wonder, who created this mask?  For what purpose?  Where has it been?  What stories would it tell if it could?  In my current “Bolivianos” series I feel as though I am creating portraits of living, or perhaps once living, beings.

In a way the masks are a pretext for a return to my early days as an artist.  When I resigned my Naval commission to pursue art full time, I started out as a photo-realist portrait painter.  The twist is that this time I do not have to satisfy a client’s request to make my subjects look younger or more handsome.  I am joyfully free to respond only to the needs of the pastel painting before me on the easel. 

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 450

On the road in Bolivia

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

All the journeys that have transpired in my life have been animated by interest. Something or someone has stopped me in my tracks. Interest, that thing that cannot really be faked, is an invitation to adventure. It has always been disorienting to do but I have to act on these interests. Somehow I know that in order to keep on working as an artist, I have to keep on changing. And this means that when interest is piqued, I must follow or die. And I know that I will have to hang on tight for the ride. These rides have changed me irrevocably.

The primary tool in a creative process is interest. To be true to one’s interest, to pursue it successfully, one’s body is the best barometer. The heart races. The pulse soars. Interest can be your guide. It always points you in the right direction. It defines the quality, energy and content of your work. You cannot feign or fake interest or choose to be interested in something because it is prescribed. It is never prescribed. It is discovered. When you sense this quickening you must act immediately. You must follow that interest and hold tight.

… If the interest is genuine and large enough and if it is pursued with tenacity and generosity, the boomerang effect is resounding. Interest returns volley to affect your life and inevitably alter it. You must be available and attentive to the doors that open unexpectedly. You cannot wait. The doors close fast. It will change your life. It will give you adventures you never expected. You must be true to it and it will be true to you.

Anne Bogart in A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theatre

Comments are welcome!

Q; What was the spark that got you started? (Question from Barbara Smith via Facebook)

Ensign Barbara Rachko, circa 1983
Ensign Barbara Rachko, circa 1983

A: If I had to select one factor, I would say, profound unhappiness with my professional life. In 1986 I was a 33-year-old Navy Lieutenant working as a computer analyst at the Pentagon. I hated my job, was utterly miserable, and moreover, I was trapped because unlike many jobs, it’s not possible to resign a Naval commission with two weeks notice.

My bachelor’s degree had been in psychology. When I was in my 20s and before I joined the Navy, I had spent two years and my own money training to become a licensed commercial pilot and Boeing-727 Flight Engineer. I had planned to become an airline pilot, but due to bad timing (airlines were not hiring pilots when I was looking for a job), that did not come to pass.

So there I was with absolutely no interest, nor any training in computers, working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and completely bored. I knew I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere and resolved to make a significant change. Searching around, I discovered a local art school, the Art League School in Alexandria, VA, and began taking drawing classes.

One drawing class lead to more. Within a couple of years, due to being highly motivated to change my life, my technical skills rapidly improved. Even then, I believe, it was obvious to anyone who knew me that I had found my calling. I resigned my active duty Naval commission and have been a fulltime professional artist since October 1989. (Note: For fourteen more years I remained in the Naval Reserve working, mostly at the Pentagon, one weekend a month and two weeks each year, and retired as a Navy Commander in 2003).

Life as a self-employed professional artist is endlessly varied, fulfilling, and interesting. I have never once regretted my decision to pursue art fulltime!

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 424

New York, NY

New York, NY

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

What the unproductive artist describes as his failure of will or insufficient motivation may rather be an absence in his belief system of the meaningfulness of art or of the art-making he’s presently doing. The most salient difference between the regularly blocked artist and the regularly productive artist may not be the greater talent of the latter, but the fact that the productive artist possesses and retains his missionary zeal.

Carlos Santana likened artists to “warriors in the trenches who have the vision of saving us from going over the edge.”  The artist who possesses this vision will pursue his art even if he sometimes blocks.  The artist who is less certain about the sacredness of his profession or the value of his work is hard-pressed to battle for art’s sake.  

Eric Maisel in A Life in the Arts:  Practical Guidance and Inspiration for Creative and Performing Artists

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 345

Barbara working on an interview. Photo:  Maria Cox

Barbara working on an interview. Photo: Maria Cox

*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 begin your journey as an artist from sacred motives, with dreams and high hopes, and also, perhaps, from a place of painful turmoil or other inner necessity.  From these powerful drives comes your conscious decision to pursue a life in art, your resolve to call yourself an artist whatever the consequences.  You are the one nodding in agreement when the painter John Baldessari says, “Art is about bloody-mindedness.  It’s not about living the good life.  In the end, it’s just you and the art.”

Eric Maisel in A Life in the Arts:  Practical Guidance and Inspiration for Creative and Performing Artists

Comments are welcome!

 

Pearls from artists* # 137

 

"She Embraced It and Grew Stronger,"  soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

“She Embraced It and Grew Stronger,” 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.

I was a determined young woman.  I was driven.  My problem was not in being an artist.  I didn’t realize how much my being a woman would get in the way of being an artist in the world.  I wasn’t aware of it.  I was just doing my thing.  My pain came from being treated like I was a bad woman, in my personal life.  That being driven and assertive and doing my vision was really bad because I was not a supporter and a nurturer of men.  The men were the ones who made me feel bad.  It could just be that they were not strong men.  It was very painful and the way that I took it was as if there was something the matter with me.  Yet, there was no way I was not going to pursue my vision.  It was not negotiable.

Conversations with Meredith Monk by Bonnie Marranca

Comments are welcome!

Q: You took classes at The Art League School in Alexandria, VA in the late eighties studying intensely with Lisa Semerad and Diane Tesler. How have these experiences impacted on the way you currently produce your artworks? By the way, I sometimes wonder if a certain kind of formal training in artistic disciplines could even stifle a young artist’s creativity. What do you think?

 

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A: From studying with Lisa and Diane I gained an excellent technical foundation and developed my ability to draw and depict just about anything in soft pastel.  They were both extremely effective teachers and I worked hard in their classes.  I probably got my work ethic from them.  Without Diane and Lisa I doubt I would have gained the necessary skills nor the confidence to move to New York to pursue my art career.

Needless to say, I believe developing excellent technical skills is paramount.  Artists can, and should, go ahead and break the rules later, but they won’t be able to make strong work, expressing what they want, without a firm foundation.  Once you have the skills, you can focus on the things that really make your work come alive and speak to an appreciative audience.   

Comments are welcome!    

Q: When you left the Navy you worked on commission as a portrait artist. Why don’t you accept commissions now?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  As I have often said, I left the active duty Navy in 1989, but stayed in the Reserves. The Reserves provided a small part-time income and the only requirement was that I work one weekend a month and two weeks each year.  Plus, I could retire after 13 more years and receive a pension.  (In 2003 I retired from the Navy Reserve as a Commander).  The rest of the time I was free to pursue my studio practice. 

For a short time I made a living making commissioned photo-realist portraits in soft pastel on sandpaper.  However, after a year I became very restless.  I remember thinking, “I did not leave a boring job just to make boring art!”  I lost interest in doing commissions because what I wanted to accomplish personally as an artist did not coincide with what portrait clients wanted.  I finished my final portrait commission in 1990 and never looked back. 

To this day I remain reluctant to accept a commission of any kind.  So I am completely free to paint whatever I want, which is the only way to evolve as a serious, deeply committed artist.      

Comments are welcome!

Q: Was there a defining moment, meeting, or event that convinced you to pursue an artistic life?

West 29th Street studio

West 29th Street studio

A:  There was not a defining moment per se, but looking back now, I’d say that because the Navy assigned me to a series of boring office jobs instead of letting me fly, I became determined to find a vocation infinitely more rewarding and more interesting to devote the rest of my life to.  I came to this realization over time, rather than in a single moment. 

Comments are welcome!

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