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Q: What was the first review you ever received and how did you get it?

My first review!

A: In 1991 I was in my late thirties and had resigned my active duty Naval commission two years before. I had been an artist for five years. I was anxious to get my pastel paintings exhibited, seen by an audience, and collected! As I worked hard to build my resume, I hustled to exhibit in all sorts of spaces that were not galleries: restaurants, hospitals, real estate offices, law offices, theaters, doctors’ offices, and more. The goal was to just get the work out of my home studio.

In December 1991 I presented a solo exhibition at Dumbarton Church in Georgetown (Washington, DC). For years Bryan had volunteered to set up chairs, a Steinway piano, and other miscellaneous equipment for their classical music concert series. The church’s downstairs space was used to showcase artists’ work. So I applied for a solo exhibition, was accepted, and got my first review in a local Washington, DC newspaper called “Eye Wash!”

Moral: artists have to work extremely hard for every little thing that comes our way!

Comments are welcome!

Q: What art project(s) are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this? (Question from artamour)  

Source material for “The Champ”
Source material for “The Champ” (my first “Bolivianos” pastel painting) and “Avenger”

A: While traveling in Bolivia in 2017, I visited a mask exhibition at the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz.  The masks were presented against black walls, spot-lit, and looked eerily like 3D versions of my Black Paintings, the series I was working on at the time.  I immediately knew I had stumbled upon a gift.  To date I have completed seventeen pastel paintings in the Bolivianos series.  One awaits finishing touches, another is in progress, and I am planning the next two, one large and one small pastel painting.

The following text is from my “Bolivianos” artist’s statement.

My long-standing fascination with traditional masks took a leap forward in the spring of 2017 when I visited the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz, Bolivia.  One particular exhibition on view, with more than fifty festival masks, was completely spell-binding.

The masks were old and had been crafted in Oruro, a former tin-mining center about 140 miles south of La Paz on the cold Altiplano (elevation 12,000’).  Depicting important figures from Bolivian folklore traditions, the masks were created for use in Carnival celebrations that happen each year in late February or early March. 

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” dance was once assumed to represent black slaves who worked in the mines, but the truth is more complicated (and uncertain) since only mitayo Indians were permitted to do this work.  The dance of “The Diablada” depicts Saint Michael fighting against Lucifer and the seven deadly sins.  The latter were originally disguised in seven different masks derived from medieval Christian symbols and mostly devoid of pre-Columbian elements (except for totemic animals 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.

The exhibition in La Paz was stunning and dramatic.  Each mask was meticulously installed against a dark black wall and strategically spotlighted so that it became alive.  The whole effect was uncanny.  The masks looked like 3D versions of my “Black Paintings,” a pastel paintings series I have been creating for ten years.  This experience was a gift… I could hardly believe my good fortune!

Knowing I was looking at the birth of a new series – I said as much to my companions as I  remained behind while they explored other parts of the museum – I spent considerable time composing photographs.  Consequently, I have enough reference material to create new pastel paintings in the studio for several years. The series, entitled “Bolivianos,” is arguably my strongest and most striking work to date.

Comments are welcome!

Q: You wear gloves and a mask when you are working in your studio, right? Can you tell me what kinds? (Question from Britta Konau)

Barbara at work

A: I wear a paper surgical mask – the type that has become ubiquitous since COVID – bought from a local medical supply store. I thoroughly coat my hands with barrier cream – Art Guard – to prevent pastel getting into my skin. The cream has an added benefit of making it easy to wash pastel off my hands. (Neither gloves nor individual finger cots ever worked for me. They made my fingers sweat and did not allow for the fine touch needed to blend new colors directly on sandpaper. Plus, they shredded from being rubbed against the paper’s grit). Also, it is very important that you work with your hand below your face so pastel dust falls below your nose, where you are less likely to breathe it in.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 460

Recent pastel paintings in progress

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

Precious realm of painting! That silent power that speaks at first only to the eyes and then seizes and captivates every faculty of the soul! Here is your real spirit; here is your own true beauty, beautiful painting, so much insulted, so much misunderstood and delivered up to fools who exploit you. But there are still hearts ready to welcome you devoutly, souls who will no more be satisfied with mere phrases than with inventions and clever artifices. You have only to be seen in your masculine and simple vigor to give pleasure that is pure and absolute. I confess that I have worked logically, I, who have no love for logical painting. I see now that my turbulent mind needs activity, that it must break out and try a hundred different ways before reaching the goal towards which I am always straining. There is an old leaven working in me, some black depth that must be appeased. Unless I am writhing like a serpent in the coils of a pythoness I am cold. I must recognize this and accept it, and to do so is the greatest happiness. Everything good that I have ever done has come about in this way. No more ‘Don Quixotes’ and such unworthy things!

The Journal of Eugene Delacroix edited by Hubert Wellington

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 438

Chalcatzingo, Mexico

Chalcatzingo, Mexico

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

Although {Manuel} Alvarez Bravo and Cartier-Bresson were both important mentors for Iturbide, her photographs, as she confirms, are not connected to Surrealism in any way.  Henri Cartier-Bresson’s publication Carnets du Mexique (Mexican Notebooks) was an important influence, as it presented a visual representation of Mexico that resonated with her.  (Cartier-Bresson also worked mainly in Juchitan, where Iturbide has spent a great deal of time).  However, Iturbide developed a way of working quite different from Cartier-Bresson’s.  What distinguishes the two artists’ photographs lies in the notion of the fleeting instant, or, as Cartier-Bresson called it, “the decisive moment.”  Iturbide refers to Cartier-Bresson’s interest in the “sharp eye” and capturing an instant in time, and describes her own intentions when photographing:  “More than in time, I’m interested in the artistic form of the symbol.”  Further, Iturbide’s photographs are taken with an understanding of the people, rituals, and symbols of the communities she captures, which makes them stand apart from Cartier-Bresson’s fleeting moments of Mexico.  Her work is informed by her deep connection and empathy for her subjects.

Kristen Gresh in Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico         

Comments are welcome!

Q: Do you have a mentor?

"Alone Together," soft pastel on sandpaper, 20" x 26"

“Alone Together,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 20″ x 26″

A:  No, but I often wish I did.  How wonderful it would be to consult someone who’s been there, a productive and successful artist who could provide advice on all the concerns, especially the problems and dangers, inherent in a professional artist’s life. 

But I have been at this for thirty years and found no such person!  I think it’s because each artist’s career is highly unique as we chart are own individual paths.  Unlike most professions, there are no firm rules or straight forward career milestones for making your way as an artist.

Besides the countless hours spent in the studio, I have always worked diligently to understand the art business.  Certainly getting work seen, exhibited, reviewed, sold, etc. is as important as making it in the first place.  It’s all part of being a professional artist. 

Early on I developed the habit of relying on my own best judgment, both in creating the work and in getting it seen and collected.  Certainly I have made plenty of mistakes.  As a result though, I know a tremendous amount about the art business.  And I enjoy sharing what I know in the hopes of steering other artists away from making similar missteps.

Comments are welcome!    

Q: Do you have any unfinished pastel paintings?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  It has been roughly 20 years since I started a painting that I couldn’t resolve and finish.  This may or may not be a good thing.  It could mean that I am not experimenting or pushing myself enough.  On the other hand, having worked as a professional artist for nearly thirty years, I am confident of my ability to think through and find solutions for finishing each painting, regardless of the difficulties encountered along the way.

Comments are welcome!       

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