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Barbara Rachko



The assimilation of styles and motifs from African cultural artifacts into the work of avant-garde artists was a means of challenging conventional western aesthetic values and hierarchies that reflected what those artists perceived as a vacuous and moribund society.  In looking to these sources to invigorate their own creative visions, what these artists actually discovered were new ways of seeing and making art. 


- Wendy Grossman in Man Ray, African Art, the Modernist Lens 


I am drawn to Mexican and Guatemalan cultural objects—masks, carved wooden animals, paper mâché figures, and toys—for reasons similar to those of Man Ray and the modernists, who in their case were drawn to African art.  On trips to southern Mexico and Guatemala I frequent local mask shops, markets, and bazaars searching for the figures that will later populate my pastel paintings and photographs.  How, why, when, and where these objects come into my life is an important part of the process.  I take very old objects with a unique Mexican or Guatemalan past—most have been used in religious festivals—and give them a second life, so to speak, in New York in the present.  When I return home I read prodigiously and find out as much about them as I can.    


The BLACK PAINTINGS series of pastel-on-sandpaper paintings grew directly from the earlier  DOMESTIC THREATS.  Both series use cultural objects as surrogates for human beings acting in mysterious, highly-charged narratives.  In the BLACK PAINTINGS the figures (actors) now take central stage.  All background details, furniture, rugs, etc. are eliminated and are replaced by intense dark black pastel.  Each painting takes months to complete as I slowly build up as many as 30 layers of soft pastel.  


The idea for the 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, i.e.,  the music was pared down to its essentials.  Similarly my current series evolved from dense, complex visual compositions into paintings that depict only the essential elements—the actors. 


Begun in 2007 this is my most personal body of work to date.  The black background symbolizes death and emptiness as the actors are emerging from a deeply painful state.  Although the BLACK PAINTINGS series was created out of profound pain, each image manifests irrepressible optimism.   



Barbara Rachko was born in Paterson, New Jersey and grew up in a New York City suburb.  She graduated from the University of Vermont with a B.A. in psychology.  After college, Barbara earned a commercial pilot’s license and Boeing 727 flight engineer’s certificate, then spent seven years on active duty as a Naval officer.  In 1986 while working at the Pentagon, she began to study figure drawing and medical anatomy, and began many long years of developing her craft.  Barbara subsequently resigned from active duty (but remained in the Navy Reserve and retired as a Commander) to devote herself to making art.  On 9/11 Barbara’s life was changed forever when her husband, Dr. Bryan C. Jack, was killed on the plane that hit the Pentagon.  Dividing her time between residences in New York and Alexandria, Virginia, Barbara enjoys a busy career as a professional artist.  She is represented by six galleries throughout the United States, exhibits nationally and internationally, and continues to win accolades, including a 2008 – 2009 Joyce Dutka Arts Foundation award and grants from the Templar Trust, for her unique work.

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