Q: What country’s artistic style influenced you the most over the years? (Question from Arte Realizzata)
A: Undoubtedly, I would have to say Mexico. As a Christmas present in 1991 my future sister-in-law sent two brightly painted wooden animal figures from Oaxaca, Mexico. One was a blue polka-dotted winged horse. The other was a red, white, and black bear-like figure.
I was enthralled with this gift and the timing was fortuitous because I had been searching for new subject matter to paint. Soon I started asking artist-friends about Oaxaca and learned that it was an important art hub. At least two well-known Mexican painters, Rufino Tamayo and Francisco Toledo, had gotten their start there , as had master photographer Manual Alvarez Bravo. There was a “Oaxacan School of Painting” (‘school’ meaning a style, not an actual building) and Alvarez Bravo had established a photography school there (the building/institution kind). I began reading everything I could find. At the time I had only been to Mexico very briefly, in 1975, having made a road trip to Ensenada with my cousin and best friend from college. The following autumn my then-boyfriend, Bryan, and I planned a two-week trip to visit Mexico. We timed it to see Day of the Dead celebrations in Oaxaca. (In my reading I had become fascinated with this festival). We spent one week in Oaxaca followed by one week in Mexico City. My interest in collecting Mexican folk art was off and running!
Comments are welcome!
*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
In Italy on the Prixe de Rome, he [Phillip Guston] traveled, studied Piero and Tiepolo and drew everywhere. His marks bunched up in quavering confederations and eventually left their subject matter behind. The trouble with figurative art, he concluded, was that it “vanishes into recognition.” Remove the recognizable and you can begin to see the push and pull of impulse, recanting, and reconfiguration that constitute painting and, by extension, life itself.
Susan Tallman in Philip Guston’s Discomfort Zone, The New York Review of Books, January 14, 2021
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Q: You have worked with twenty-plus galleries during your career. Which ones do you consider the best?
A: Probably the most prestigious gallery that represented my work was Brewster Fine Arts on West 57th Street in Manhattan. Brewster was my first New York gallery. In the summer of 1996 I mailed the gallery a sheet of slides, as we did in those days. I was living in Virginia and had been a working artist for ten years. In July while traveling around Mexico, I decided to check the phone messages at home in Virginia. I was thrilled to receive an invitation from Mia Kim, the gallery director, to exhibit pastel paintings in October! And she had not yet even seen my work in person.
Beginning that fall, I gained representation with Brewster Fine Arts, an elegant gallery specializing in Latin American Masters like Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera, and others. I am not Latina, of course, but I showed there due to my subject matter. At my October opening, I remember Mia declaring to the attendees, “Barbara has the soul of a Latina!” That night I met fellow gallery artist Leonora Carrington. She and I were the only non-Latina artists respresented. I knew I was on my way!
The gallery continued to present my work in group exhibitions and the staff gave brilliant talks about me and my creative process. For many years whenever I introduced myself to a new art aficionado, they already knew my work from having seen it at Brewster. I continued to be represented there until the gallery closed years later.
Also, Gallery Bergelli in Larkspur, CA did an excellent job of representing my work. I applied for one of their juried exhibitions, was accepted, and afterwards, they offered permanent representation. Soon they introduced me to one of my best collectors, with whom I am still friends.
I have worked with many galleries, some good, some not, for various reasons. Ours is an extremely tough business. Unfortunately, many of the best and formerly-great galleries are gone forever.
Comments are welcome!
Q: Your work is unlike anyone else’s. There is such power and boldness in your pastels. What processes are you using to create such poignant and robustly colored work?
A: For thirty-three years I have worked exclusively in soft pastel on sandpaper. Pastel, which is pigment and a binder to hold it together, is as close to unadulterated color as an artist can get. It allows for very saturated color, especially using the self-invented techniques I have developed and mastered. I believe my “science of color” is unique, completely unlike how any other artist works. I spend three to four months on each painting, applying pastel and blending the layers together to mix new colors on the paper.
The acid-free sandpaper support allows the buildup of 25 to 30 layers of pastel as I slowly and meticulously work for hundreds of hours to complete a painting. The paper is extremely forgiving. I can change my mind, correct, refine, etc. as much as I want until a painting is the best I can create at that moment in time.
My techniques for using soft pastel achieve rich velvety textures and exceptionally vibrant color. Blending with my fingers, I painstakingly apply dozens of layers of pastel onto the sandpaper. In addition to the thousands of pastels that I have to choose from, I make new colors directly on the paper. Regardless of size, each pastel painting takes about four months and hundreds of hours to complete.
I have been devoted to soft pastel from the beginning. In my blog and in numerous interviews online and elsewhere, I continue to expound on its merits. For me no other fine art medium comes close.
My subject matter is singular. I am drawn to Mexican, Guatemalan, and Bolivian cultural objects—masks, carved wooden animals, papier mâché figures, and toys. On trips to these countries and elsewhere I frequent local mask shops, markets, and bazaars searching for the figures that will populate my pastel paintings. How, why, when, and where these objects come into my life is an important part of the creative process. Each pastel painting is a highly personal blend of reality, fantasy, and autobiography.
Comments are welcome!
Q: When did your love of indigenous artifacts begin? Where have you traveled to collect these focal points of your works and what have those experiences taught you?
A: As a Christmas present in 1991 my future sister-in-law sent me two brightly painted wooden animal figures from Oaxaca, Mexico. One was a blue polka-dotted winged horse. The other was a red, white, and black bear-like figure.
I was enthralled with this gift and the timing was fortuitous because I had been searching for new subject matter to paint. I started asking artist-friends about Oaxaca and learned that it was an important art hub. Two well-known Mexican painters, Rufino Tamayo and Francisco Toledo, had gotten their start there, as had master photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo. There was a “Oaxacan School of Painting” (‘school’ meaning a style) and Alvarez Bravo had established a photography school there (the building/institution kind). I began reading everything I could find. At the time I had only been to Mexico very briefly, in 1975.
The following autumn, Bryan and I planned a two-week trip to visit Mexico. We timed it to see Day of the Dead celebrations in Oaxaca. (During my research I had become fascinated with this festival). We spent one week in Oaxaca followed by one week in Mexico City. My interest in collecting Mexican folk art was off and running!
Along with busloads of other tourists, we visited several cemeteries in small Oaxacan towns for the “Day of the Dead.” The indigenous people tending their ancestors’ graves were so dignified and so gracious, even with so many mostly-American tourists tromping around on a sacred night, that I couldn’t help being taken with these beautiful people and their beliefs.
From Oaxaca we traveled to Mexico City, where again I was entranced, but this time by the rich and ancient history. We visited the National Museum of Anthropology, where I was introduced to the fascinating story of ancient Mesoamerican civilizations; the ancient city of Teotihuacan, which the Aztecs discovered as an abandoned city and then occupied as their own; and the Templo Mayor, the historic center of the Aztec empire, infamous as a place of human sacrifice. I was astounded! Why had I never learned in school about Mexico, this highly developed cradle of Western civilization in our own hemisphere, when so much time had been devoted to the cultures of Egypt, Greece, and elsewhere? When I returned home to Virginia I began reading everything I could find about ancient Mexican civilizations, including the Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Aztec, and Maya. The first trip to Mexico opened up a whole new world and was to profoundly influence my future work. I would return there many more times, most recently to study Olmec art and archeology. In subsequent years I have traveled to Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia and other countries in search of inspiration and subject matter to depict in my work.
Comments are welcome!
* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
If we are left unmoved by a painting of the Virgin, it is likely because the artist was unmoved in the painting of her. The subject matter is mostly irrelevant; it is important only as a vehicle for the artist’s attention. Authenticity comes from how deeply the artist felt. And this is the key to how much silence, how much consciousness or attention, the art contains.
… subject matter, if the artist is even using it, is just an armature for the artist to engage his intensity of feeling. It is the quality of your attention that influences how you see and how deeply you feel. Different artists have affinities for different subject matter as a way into expressing themselves deeply. And that depth is the quality, we, the viewers, respond to. It is what we continue to respond to over the centuries in great works of art. The fact that things last, that we continue to admire them, is in the end a good indicator of their quality, of their silence. Art museums therefore, have little nodes of silence nestling in their galleries. They are filled with, to use André Malraux’s expression, “the voices of silence.”
Ian Roberts in Creative Authenticity: 16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision
Comments are welcome!