Miles Davis destroys creative block

Artist profile: visual artist, Barbara Rachko

Barbara Rachko works out of her New York studio and is garnering interest from around the world.

I am very excited that Dr. Lisa Paul Streitfeld, Kulturindustrie theorist and critic, has recently written an insightful essay about my “Black Paintings” series. She has also included it in her new Huffington Post article on the 'Golem' exhibit, which opened September 23, 2016 at the Jewish Museum Berlin. Her interpretation is bringing exciting new interest to this series.


What medium does Barbara work in?

The "Black Paintings," is a series of unique, one-of-a-kind paintings made using soft pastel on sandpaper. This series grew directly out of an earlier one called, "Domestic Threats."


How has Barbara transitioned from one series of works to this new work?

The idea for "Black Paintings" began when I attended a jazz history course and learned how Miles Davis developed cool jazz from bebop. In bebop, the notes were played hard and fast as musicians showcased their technical virtuosity. Cool jazz was a much more relaxed style with fewer notes. The music was pared down to its essentials.

“Palaver” by Barbara Rachko

Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, Image 26” x 20”, Framed 35” x 28 1/2”, 2016

Inspiration can come from anywhere!

I had been experiencing my first-ever creative 'block.' This was painful and my inability to make new work had already persisted for six months. Paintings in the "Domestic Threats" series had evolved into very dense, complex visual compositions that had run their full course and had no logical place to go next. My insight from Miles Davis was to make paintings that only depict the essential elements, the masks, carved wooden animals, papier mache figures, toys, and other cultural objects I have collected over 25 years of travel to Mexico and Guatemala - it was a eureka moment! I decided to start a new body of work in which my "actors" would now appear front and center. As the series evolves, what is left out becomes increasingly more important, resulting in more demands placed on the viewer.


Barbara has been very active on social media to make sure that she has an audience for her work.

Some years ago I realized the importance of putting as much time and energy into getting my work seen online as I do to create it.


What sort of audience does Barbara now have?

I am proud that my persistence and hard work over 4+ years have grown a large audience on social media platforms. I believe successful artists know that relationships are key to growing an art career. I have over 18,000 Likes on my Facebook fan page and share posts in numerous Facebook groups. Years ago I maxed out my Facebook personal page at 5,000 friends. I have reaped benefits from consistently maintaining an art blog.

White Star by Barbara Rachko

Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, Image 38” x 58”, Framed 50” x 70”, 2016

Does blogging also contribute to Barbara’s art practice?

The process of blogging twice a week forces me to think deeply about my work and to explain it clearly to an audience. Writing also helps me develop a better understanding about why I make art and has encouraged me to become a better writer.


It can be daunting for an artist to think about providing regular quality content for a solid social media presence. What sort of things does Barbara post?

I try everything, provided it fits with the quality of the work I'm creating and with my marketing and long-term goals. In general the more personal the back-story that people come to know about an artist's work, the more they will appreciate it. It is my experience that each artist must craft her own narrative in order to build an audience.


Where is Barbara active online?

In my social media activities, I repurpose blog articles into "long published posts" on LinkedIn (these articles go to all of my contacts) and "notes," which is LinkedIn's blog. Besides Facebook and LinkedIn, I am currently most active on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest. I have sold paintings in the five-figure price range, through Facebook connections. From her base in Split, Croatia, Dr. Lisa Paul Streitfeld connected with me on LinkedIn, which led to our fruitful collaboration and her scholarly articles on "Black Paintings." I am corresponding with art collectors in Portugal and an art historian in Hamburg. I recently translated my website into Portuguese and Spanish, as social media insights demonstrate that I have significant numbers of followers who speak these languages. Thanks to a new Wordpress widget, my blog is now readable in every language. I also have profiles on many online gallery sites. I do participate in some "marketing programs" such as "Art Below," a London-based company whose mission is "to turn ad space into art space."


And where is her largest audience?

My largest audience is on Facebook, followed by LinkedIn. Both allow me to easily engage with my audience, respond to comments, and discover groups specifically targeted to my work and interests. Also, I have been able to import and link my Blog, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube accounts directly to my Facebook fan page.


Barbara mentioned selling paintings through Facebook, is that where she makes most of her sales?

This is a very difficult task, but with persistence, my work DOES attract collectors, curators, art historians, etc. Sales mostly still happen face-to-face, but increasingly they are the result of discussions and relationships begun online. You never know what connection might lead to a sale. Sales typically result after a long-term endeavor in which I educate people about my process, publish intriguing information about the paintings and my influences, and otherwise maximize the chance that people will discover a love for my life's work. Towards this end I have published an e-book on Amazon which contains highlights from my blog, is autobiographical (including how I overcame losing my husband on 9/11) and rich in illustrations and insights about sustaining a creative practice in New York. I have been a visual artist for thirty years now and don't believe there are any shortcuts.


Are there any productivity tips that Barbara can offer us?

A helpful feature of Facebook Pages is the ability to schedule posts. This provides the ability to test different content strategies to determine what works best. Also, on my blog I typically write and schedule posts three months in advance.

What is Barbara’s final word on building a successful career as an artist?

A favorite quote is: "Excellence can be attained if more than others think is wise... risk more than others think is safe... dream more than others think is practical... expect more than others think is possible." These words are on a small plaque that a co-worker gave me when I resigned my Naval commission to pursue a full-time professional art career. My advice is:

1. build a support network among your fellow artists, teachers, and friends. It is tough to be an artist, period. Be sure to read plenty of books by and about artists. All have faced similar challenges.

2. Do whatever you must to keep working - no matter what! Being an artist never really gets easier. There are always new challenges and with time you will discover solutions.

3. Try to keep a laser focus on those activities that make you and your work better. An artist's task is difficult enough without all of the mindless distractions we face in 2017.

To stay in touch with Barbara and her work visit her website.