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Barbara Rachko is a successful visual artist who creates beautiful, smart pastel-on-sandpaper paintings and limited-edition photographs. She lives in New York, NY and Alexandria, VA.
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    A: There’s not an audition process, but I do feel like the masks and figures call out to me when I’m searching the markets of Mexico and Guatemala. Color is very important – the brighter and the more eye-catching the better – plus they must have lots of “personality.” I try not to buy anything […]

    barbararachkoscoloreddustNegotiating with Tomas in Panajachel, Guatemala; photo by Donna TangbarbararachkoscoloreddustNegotiating with Tomas in Panajachel, Guatemala; photo by Donna Tang

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    A: All of the paintings in this series are set in places where I reside or used to live, either a Virginia house or New York apartments, i.e., domestic environments. Each painting typically contains a conflict of some sort, at least one figure who is being menaced or threatened by a group of figures. So […]

    barbararachkoscoloreddustbarbararachkoscoloreddust"He Urged Her To Abdicate," soft pastel on sandpaper

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    A: After I lost my husband, Bryan, on 9/11 – as I’ve discussed elsewhere, Bryan photographed most of the setups for my “Domestic Threats” series – I needed to find a way to continue making art. In June 2002 I began studying photography at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York. I took […]

    barbararachkoscoloreddustExhibition catalogue, 2009 solo exhibition at HP Garcia Gallery, NYC; see Blogroll on sidebar to viewbarbararachkoscoloreddustExhibition catalogue, 2009 solo exhibition at HP Garcia Gallery, NYC; see Blogroll on sidebar to view

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    A:  No, normally I don’t, but there is one notable exception.  Lola – I could hardly call her any other name – is a red-dressed, cigarette-smoking, black-stocking cloth doll made by an artist in Mexico City.  I never met her creator, but years ago a man came into my Alexandria, Virginia studio (where I had […]

    barbararachkoscoloreddustLola in barbararachkoscoloreddustLola in "He Urged Her to Abdicate," soft pastel on sandpaper

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    A:  I always did so with my “Domestic Threats” paintings, but not with my current work.  As I set up a group of figures to photograph, I would make up a story about what was happening between them:  what the Day of the Dead skeleton I bought in Mexico City was saying to the frog/fish/human […]

    barbararachkoscoloreddustbarbararachkoscoloreddust"He Just Stood There Grinning," soft pastel on sandpaper, " 58" x 38"

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    A:  As a pastel artist I’ve never worked outside – with so many pastels, it’s just not practical – but early on in the “Domestic Threats” series, I created two outdoor setups.  Works in the series derived from elaborate scenes that I arranged and then photographed.   I used to take long walks along the Potomac River in Alexandria, VA, and there was a tree stump that was fascinating.  It was mostly twisted roots, knotty branches, dark […]

    barbararachkoscoloreddustReproductions of barbararachkoscoloreddustReproductions of "Cardinal Rule" (top) and "Blue Ego," originals are soft pastel on sandpaper, 30" x 38"

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    A:  Like everything else associated with my studio practice, my use of photographs from which to work has changed considerably. Beginning in the early 1990s all of the paintings in my first series, “Domestic Threats,” started out as elaborately staged, well-lit scenes that either my husband, Bryan, or I photographed with Bryan’s Toyo Omega 4 x 5 view camera using a wide-angle lens.   Depending on where […]

    barbararachkoscoloreddustPhotograph, left, and work in progressbarbararachkoscoloreddustPhotograph, left, and work in progress

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    A:  When I set up the figures to photograph for a painting, I work very intuitively, so how I actually cast them in an artwork is difficult to say. Looks count a lot – I select an object and put it in a particular place, look at it, move it or let it stay, and […]

    barbararachkoscoloreddustA corner of Barbara's studiobarbararachkoscoloreddustA corner of Barbara's studio

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    A:  My process is extremely slow and labor-intensive.  First, there is foreign travel – often to Mexico, Guatemala or someplace in Asia – to find the cultural objects – masks, carved wooden animals, paper mâché figures, and toys – that are my subject matter.  I search the local markets, bazaars, and mask shops for these folk art objects. I look […]

    barbararachkoscoloreddustBarbara in Bali (far right)barbararachkoscoloreddustBarbara in Bali (far right)

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    A:  That is a great question!   You are correct that my palette has darkened. It’s partly from having lived in New York for so long. This is a generally dark city. We famously dress in black and the city in winter is mainly greys and browns.   Also, the “Black Paintings” are definitely post-9/11 work. My […]

    barbararachkoscoloreddustWest 29th Street studiobarbararachkoscoloreddustWest 29th Street studio

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    A:  At first I didn’t know what to call them.  I was looking for a word that meant “a piece of some larger whole.”  Initially the word “shard” – a fragment of pottery – came to mind.  However, that didn’t capture the meaning I was seeking, since my paintings have little to do with pottery.  My large “Domestic Threats” paintings are theatrical.  There is substantial labor and much thought involved […]

    barbararachkoscoloreddustbarbararachkoscoloreddust"Scene Thirteen: Bathroom," 26" x 20", soft pastel on sandpaper"He Urged Her to Abdicate," 58" x 38," soft pastel on sandpaper

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      A:  I suppose it’s when there is nothing left to say within a particular body of work.  The urgency to add something I haven’t tried vanishes.  Usually I can’t even think of anything I haven’t tried.  I knew with certainty that the “Domestic Threats” series was finished while “A Promise Meant to be Broken” was still on my easel.  It’s no […]

    barbararachkoscoloreddustbarbararachkoscoloreddust"A Promise, Meant to be Broken," soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

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    A:  Yes, I can think of several.  Whether making pastel paintings or printing photographs in the darkroom, I have always been concerned with quality and craftsmanship and never pronounce a work finished until it is the best thing I can make.  Although I started out as a maker of photorealist portraits in pastel, for twenty-odd years I have worked with Mexican […]

    barbararachkoscoloreddustBarbara's portfolio bookbarbararachkoscoloreddustBarbara's portfolio book

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    A:  There are two:  “Myth Meets Dream” and “No Cure for Insomnia.”  Both are part of my “Domestic Threats” series and were breakthroughs at the time I made them.  They are relatively early works – the first from 1993, the latter from 1999 – and were important in my artistic development.  “Myth Meets Dream” is the earliest pastel painting in which I depict Mexican figures.  It includes two brightly painted, carved […]

    barbararachkoscoloreddustbarbararachkoscoloreddust"No Cure for Insomnia," pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

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    A:  I’d say it was the approximately six months in 2007 when I finished the “Domestic Threats” series and was blocked, certain that a strong body of work was behind me, but not knowing what in the world to do next.  For a professional artist who had been prolific and non-stop for 21 years, this was a profoundly painful, confusing, and disorienting time.  What I remember most is continuing to force myself to […]

    barbararachkoscoloreddustbarbararachkoscoloreddust"Between," soft pastel on sandpaper, 20" x 26"

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    A:  Well, not exactly, since I began this work in 1991.   All of the paintings in this series are set in places where I reside or used to live, either a Virginia house or two New York apartments, i.e., my personal domestic environments. Each painting typically contains a conflict of some sort, at least one […]


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    A:  When my husband, Bryan, was alive I barely picked up a camera, except to photograph sights encountered during our travels. Throughout the 1990s and ending in 2007, I worked on my series of pastel-on-sandpaper paintings called, “Domestic Threats.”  These were realistic depictions of elaborate scenes that I staged first in our 1932 Sears house in […]

    barbararachkoscoloreddustUntitled, 24barbararachkoscoloreddustUntitled, 24" x 24" c-print

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    A:  My title is borrowed directly from a 2001 catalogue essay by the late art critic, Gerritt Henry.  The essay was about my first pastel painting series (“Domestic Threats”) and it’s called, “Barbara Rachko:  Gods and Monsters.”   Among other shared interests, Gerritt and I both loved old Frankenstein movies from the 1940s.  Around 1998 interest in James Whale, who had directed the original films, was riding high thanks to an […]

    barbararachkoscoloreddustUntitled c-print, 24barbararachkoscoloreddustUntitled c-print, 24" x 24" edition of 5