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Interview with Artist Barbara Rachko

Internationally Recognized Pastel Painter, Author and Blogger

Featured Artist Interview

“In showing what is possible artists cannot help but create a better society. Ours is essential work.” ~ Barbara Rachko

Barbara Rachko is an artist, author and blogger. She creates unique pastel-on-sandpaper paintings that are inspired by Mexican and Guatemalan cultural objects. Barbara is also an award-winning member of the Manhattan Arts International Artist Showcase Gallery. You can visit her page here.

Barbara Rachko
Barbara Rachko in her New York studio.

The internationally recognized full-time artist currently divides her time between residences in New York, NY and Alexandria, Virginia. She is represented by six galleries throughout the United States, has exhibits around the world, and continues to win accolades, awards and grants.

Rachko’s attraction to diverse cultural treasures has taken her on many travels to southern Mexico and Guatemala. There, she visits the local local mask shops, markets, and bazaars “searching for the figures that will later populate my pastel paintings and photographs.”

Barbara Rachko
Barbara Rachko, Motley, pastel-on-sandpaper painting, 38” x 58” image, 50” x 70” framed.

When she returns from her trips she reads as much as she can find about the objects, a preoccupation that imbues her art with a profound authenticity.

To create her unique and compelling compositions Rachko removes all of the non-essential background details are replaces them with an intense saturation of dark black pastel. As a result the figures become the dominant focal points — animated and personified.

Barbara Rachko’s Colored Dust Blog

Barbara Rachko's blog
Barbara Rachko’s blog

Rachko maintains an active blog on which she shares her perspective on pastel painting, photography, and the creative inspiration she finds in ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, mythology, and travel to remote places.

With her permission we share a few excerpts from her blog posts.

All rights reserved. Do not copy any images without the artist’s permission. Click on images for larger views.

What are some of your work habits?
BR: “I enjoy the physicality of art-making and prefer to stand at my easel so I can back up to see how a painting looks from a distance. I like being on my feet all day and getting some exercise.

In order to accomplish anything, artists need to be disciplined. I work five days a week, taking Wednesdays and Sundays off, and spend seven hours or more in the studio. Daylight is necessary so I work more hours in summer, fewer in winter. I deliberately don’t have a clock on the wall – art-making is independent of timetables – but I tend to work in roughly two-hour blocks before taking a break.

Studio hours are sacrosanct and exclusively for creative work. I keep my computer and mobile devices out of the studio. Art business activities – answering email, keeping up with social media, sending jpegs, writing blog posts, doing interviews, etc. – are mostly accomplished at home in the evenings and on days off.

“Provocateur,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26″ x 20″
Barbara Rachko, “Provocateur,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26″ x 20″

How important are the titles of your pastel paintings?

I’d say they are important. Titles serve mainly as “a way in” for viewers, giving some clues about my thought processes while I am making a painting. Usually titles emerge only after I have been working on a painting for weeks or months. For me they are very much like mementos after a very interesting journey.

Besides your art materials is there something you couldn’t live without in your studio?

BR: I would not want to work without music. Turning on the radio or the cd player is part of my daily ritual before heading over to the easel. (Next I apply barrier cream to my hands to prevent pastel being absorbed into my skin, put on a surgical mask, etc.). I generally listen to WFUV, WBGO, or to my cd collection while I’m working.

Listening and thinking about song lyrics is integral to my art-making process.

“She Embraced It and Grew Stronger,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38,” 2003
“She Embraced It and Grew Stronger,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38,” 2003

Is there a pastel painting that you are most proud of?

BR: Without a doubt I am most proud of “She Embraced It and Grew Stronger.”

After Bryan (her husband) was killed on 9/11, making art again seemed an impossibility. When he was alive I would spend weeks setting up and lighting the tableau I wanted to paint. Then Bryan would shoot two negatives using his Toyo-Omega 4 x 5 view camera. I would select one and order a 20″ x 24″ reference photo to be printed by a local photography lab.

“She Embraced It…” is the first large pastel painting that I created without using a photograph taken by Bryan. This painting proved that I had learned to use his 4 x 5 view camera to shoot the reference photographs that were (and still are) integral to my process. My life’s work could continue!

Certainly the title is autobiographical. ‘She’ in “She Embraced It and Grew Stronger” is me and ‘It’ means continuing on without Bryan and living life for both of us.

Barbara Rachko
Barbara Rachko, Epiphany, soft pastel on sandpaper 38″ x 58″.

What do you think is an artist’s chief responsibility?

BR: All serious artists have the responsibility of developing our unique and special gifts to the best of our abilities and sharing our creative output with an appreciative audience. In other words we do good work and then we educate, and often create, the audience for it. This is the demanding, all-important task that gets me out of bed every day.

In showing what is possible artists cannot help but create a better society. Ours is essential work.

Visit Barbara Rachko’s website at www.barbararachko.com
Visit Barbara Rachko’s blog at barbararachkoscoloreddust.com/

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