Blog Archives

Q: What was the first New York gallery that represented your work and how did they find you?

Exhibition Review

A: My first (and still the best) New York gallery was Brewster Gallery on West 57th Street in what, in 1996, was the most important gallery district in Manhattan. By joining Brewster, my work was exhibited alongside an impressive list of Latin American painters and sculptors such as Leonora Carrington, Frida Kahlo, Francisco Zuniga, Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera, Francisco Toledo, and more. Brewster was a prestigious and elegant gallery, well-known throughout the Latin American art world for their superb exhibitions and their contributions to art history scholarship.

Since I am not Latina, my work was selected by virtue of its Mexican subject matter and level of craftsmanship. Mia Kim, the owner/director, told me that amidst so many deserving, unrepresented, and talented artists of Latin American heritage, she was sometimes challenged to defend her decision to represent me. Mia’s response was always, “Barbara may not be of Latin American ancestry, but she most assuredly has the soul of a Latina! Her work has obvious affinities to Leonora’s, the other non-Latina that we represent.”

In July of 1996, while I was still living in Virginia, I mailed a slide sheet and reviews to Brewster, thinking that during the slow summer months, perhaps someone might actually LOOK at my material. Then I forgot all about it as Bryan and I headed off on a trip to Mexico. While we were in Mexico City, something told me to check our phone messages at the house in Alexandria. I did so and was floored to hear Mia offer me representation and a two-person show in October. The first time she would even see my work in person would be when I delivered it to the gallery!

In October my “Domestic Threats” pastel paintings were paired with work by Cuban artist, Tomas Esson, for an exhibition called “Monkey Business.” The opening was extremely well-attended by a sophisticated international New York crowd. A highlight was meeting Leonora Carrington, one of my artist heroes of long standing. Afterwards a large group of us were wined and dined at a French restaurant around the corner on West 58th Street. I remember looking at Bryan and saying, “I think I’ve made it!” The next day there was a favorable review in a publication called, “Open Air.” After working in complete obscurity for thirteen years, I was finally on my way.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress
“Shamanic,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 35” x 28.5” framed

A: I just started a large 58″ x 38″ pastel painting based on the same reference photograph I used for “Shamanic,” 26″ x 20.” Sometimes ideas for new projects arrive in prosaic ways. I saw a mockup of “Shamanic” on my New Delhi gallery’s Instagram page. The mockup depicted my pastel painting as considerably larger than it actually is. I became intrigued with this unexpected format and decided to create a new one in a larger size.

For now I have turned Shamanic” to the wall so that it does not inadvertently influence my color choices. The two pastel paintings are already looking quite different.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Who is your core audience for your blog? What do you want people to know about your art that you have not created visually? (Question from “Arte Realizzata”)

Working on “Raconteur”
Working on “Raconteur”

A: As I understand it, my core audience here (currently 77,000+ and growing!) is an international group of artists and art aficionados looking for hope, inspiration, and probably, motivation to keep making art.  Unfortunately, ours is a world that too often misunderstands and under-appreciates the difficult, essential, and sometimes lonely work undertaken by artists.  Hopefully, my blog makes readers think, “If Barbara can keep making art under these conditions and continue to thrive after what she’s been through, maybe I can, too!”  

Comments are welcome!

Q: When did you start using the sandpaper technique and why (Question from “Arte Realizzata”)

The start of a new pastel-on-sandpaper painting

A: In the late 1980s when I was studying at the Art League School in Alexandria, VA, I enrolled in  a three-day pastel workshop with Albert Handel, an artist known for his southwest landscapes in pastel and oil paint.  I had just begun working with soft pastel and was experimenting with paper.  Handel suggested I try Ersta fine sandpaper.  I did and nearly three decades later, I’ve never used anything else. 

This paper is acid-free and accepts dry media, mainly pastel and charcoal.   It allows me to build up layer upon layer of pigment and blend, without having to use a fixative.  The tooth of the paper almost never gets filled up so it continues to hold pastel.  (On the rare occasion when the tooth DOES fill up, which sometimes happens with problem areas that are difficult to resolve, I take a bristle paintbrush, dust off the unwanted pigment, and start again).  My entire technique – slowly applying soft pastel, blending and creating new colors directly on the paper, making countless corrections and adjustments, rendering minute details, looking for the best and/or most vivid colors – evolved in conjunction with this paper. 

I used to say that if Ersta ever went out of business and stopped making sandpaper, my artist days would be over.  Thankfully, when that DID happen, UArt began making a very similar paper.  I buy it in two sizes – 22″ x 28″ sheets and 56″ wide by 10-yard-long rolls.  The newer version of the rolled paper is actually better than the old, because when I unroll it, it lays flat immediately.  With Ersta I would lay the paper out on the floor for weeks before the curl would give way and it was flat enough to work on.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Would you speak about the creative process that resulted in your 1994 pastel painting, “Amok”?

Barbara with “Amok” photo and painting
Barbara with “Amok,” c-print and pastel painting

A: Behind me in the photo above is one of my circa 1994 50” x 40” c-prints, signed by both Bryan, my late husband, and me. The photo was my reference for a pastel painting titled, “Amok” (right, above).

I staged these photos in our Alexandria house (staged photography was popular then), refined the composition over days or weeks, and lit the scene using two tungsten studio lights. I was careful to accentuate the shadows, doing what I could to light everything as though it were a film noir set. (Film noir is still a favorite movie genre of mine).

In those days I knew nothing about photography so I considered these photos collaborations, since Bryan clicked the shutter. (He typically shot two pieces of film using his old Toyo Omega 4 x 5 view camera with a rented wide angle lens). Bryan was reluctant to take any credit- insisting that the idea, concept, etc. were mine – but I persuaded him to also sign the photos. (How I wish he were still around to fill in forgotten details about our collaboration).

People enjoyed and often asked to purchase the reference photos so I sometimes had them enlarged and sold them. The dragon in the foreground is significant because it was my first purchase in Oaxaca during our initial trip to Mexico.

If anyone is interested, please remind me to tell the (long) story about how I got it home on the plane!  

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 419

A corner of Barbara’s West Village apartment

A corner of Barbara’s West Village apartment

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

Dear Reader,

We wouldn’t need books quite so much if everyone around us understood us well.  But they don’t.  Even those who love us get us wrong  They tell us who we are but leave things out.  They claim to know what we need, but forget to ask us properly first.  They can’t understand what we feel – and sometimes, we’re unable to tell them, because we don’t really understand it ourselves.  That’s where books come in.  They explain us to ourselves and to others, and make us feel less strange, less isolated and less alone.  We might have lots of good friends, but even with the best friends in the world, there are things that no one quite gets.  That’s the moment to turn to books.  They are friends waiting for us any time we want them, and they will always speak honestly to us about what really matters.  They are the perfect cure for loneliness.  They can be our very closest friends. 

Yours,

Alain

Alain de Botton in A Velocity of Being:  Letters to a Young Reader edited by Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 342

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.

I work either way, you see – assisted or unassisted – because that is what you must do in order to live a fully creative life.  I work steadily, and I always thank the process.  Whether I am touched by grace or not, I thank creativity for allowing me to engage at all.

Because either way, it’s all kind of amazing – what we get to do, what we get to attempt, what we sometimes get to commune with.   

Gratitude, always.

Always, gratitude.

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 176

Working on "Charade," Photo:  Marianne Barcellona

Working on “Charade,” Photo: Marianne Barcellona

* 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 don’t demand a translation of the unknown. I don’t need to understand what it all means, or where ideas are originally conceived, or why creativity plays out as unpredictably as it does.  I don’t need to know why we are sometimes able to converse freely with inspiration, when at other times we labor hard in solitude and come up with nothing.  I don’t need to know why an idea visited you today and not me.  Or why it visited us both.  Or why it abandoned us both.

None of us can know such things, for these are among the great enigmas.

All I know for certain is that this is how I want to spend my life – collaborating to the best of my ability with forces of inspiration that I can neither see, nor prove, nor command, nor understand.

It’s a strange line of work, admittedly.

I cannot think of a better way to pass my days.

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear

Comments are welcome!

    

Q: Do you use a sketchbook?

Hudson Yards, NYC

Hudson Yards, NYC

A:  I used to use a sketchbook early on, when I was just beginning to find my way as an artist.   Sketching on location helped to crystalize my ideas about art, about technique, and about what I hoped to accomplish in the near term.  These days I spend so many hours in the studio – it’s my day job – that I often need a mental and physical break from using my eyes and from looking at and composing images. 

What I do instead is to walk around New York (and elsewhere) with a camera.  Photography for me sometimes serves as an alternative to sketching.  It’s a way to continue to think about art, to experiment, and to contemplate what makes an arresting image without actually having to be working in the studio. 

Comments are welcome!   

Pearls from artists* #172

Barbara in her studio

Barbara in her 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.

I don’t need to understand what it all means, or where ideas are originally conceived, or why creativity plays out as unpredictably as it does.  I don’t need to know why we are sometimes able to converse freely with inspiration, when at other times we labor hard in solitude and come up with nothing. I don’t need to know why an idea visited you today and not me.  Or why it visited us bot.  Or why it abandoned us both.

None of us can know such things, for these are among the great enigmas.

All I know for certain is that this is how I want to spend my life – collaborating to the best of my ability with forces of inspiration that I can neither see, nor prove, nor command, nor understand.

It’s a strange line of work, admittedly.

I cannot think of a better way to pass my days. 

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear  

Comments are welcome!    

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