A New Way of Thinking about Art
Questions & Answers with Barbara Gothard
What did you want to be when you were a child?
“An artist. Fortunately my mother was very perceptive. After I won first prize for a drawing I did in second grade, she enrolled me in Saturday morning art classes. I used to think that she did this to get me out of the house, but in hindsight I’m so appreciative that she recognized my creative interest and found a way for me to nurture it. This creative drive has been an integral part of my life ever since, although the degree to which I was able to implement it was dictated by family and business circumstances.”
What was the best piece of advice you have been given?
“The best advice I have received was to always remember that grace under fire is the sign of maturity.“
What is your favorite thing about your art studio?
“I draw inspiration for my art from the natural light, the ever-changing desert sky, the magnificent colors of the plants in bloom, and the way the colors of the mountains evolve throughout the day. These all influence the expansiveness I attempt to capture in my paintings. Having grown up in the Midwest, where the landscape was mostly flat, I’ve always been intrigued by mountains, and although this is my first time living in a desert environment, interestingly mountains have appeared in my paintings for a long time. Plus, I find I’m well-suited for a live/work environment in which my creative tools are available at any time of day or night.”
What is the biggest sacrifice you have made to be an artist?
“Postponing my art career while raising my children was a difficult decision, but it was also the best decision I’ve ever made. I think about my professional art career in two stages: Stage 1, before children and, not unlike many women, my career working full-time as an artist; and Stage 2, after children are grown. When I reflect on my two marvelous children, who’ve grown into successful, accomplished adults in whom I take much pride, I know I made the right decision.”
What does success mean to you?
“Favorable outcomes, which evolve along with the progress of my work, are the way I think about success. If the viewers’ takeaway from my art is that I’ve encouraged them to think about what they have seen, what it might mean as opposed to its purely decorative quality, this is a favorable outcome. When I see viewers return two, three or more times to take another look, I feel that I’ve connected with them in some way and that they are thinking about what they’re viewing. I know my work can be challenging for some viewers, but my hope is that the takeaway is to appreciate that they were exposed to a different and perhaps new way of thinking about art.
“Another favorable outcome is for viewers to sense the ’story,’ but perhaps not in a traditional or literal sense. The story is about the options we have in life. In spite of the contradictory elements in my work, they have been described by viewers as strangely peaceful. There is always an element of hope, which is often represented by windows, openings in the sky, or more organic aspects. Each series of works evolves from the previous series to convey the story of how or what triggered the evolution.”
Name the biggest overall lesson you have learned in marketing yourself as an artist.
“Perseverance! Consistency! And more perseverance! It has been important to understand brand development in the creative sector, design the look for marketing materials that is compatible with my artwork, and overcome my initial hesitancy surrounding social media. In addition, networking with fellow artists and marketing specialists to learn from their experiences. Plus the value of working with and benefiting from the experience of your gallerist, in my case Jorge Mendez Gallery.”
Has learning from a mistake ever led you to success?
“Constantly. This is how I grow and how my artworks always seem to evolve into something better. For example, one of my older paintings was water-damaged by leaks in the ceiling during a rain storm. My mistake was assuming it should be cleaned. When it was returned to me, however, it was rolled up in a box rather than rolled around a tube or placed in the tube. The canvas had so many creases and cracks that the painting could never be displayed in its original form. It was tacked to a wall for almost a year.
“Then this past January as I was exploring the two galleries at Space 4 Art in San Diego for a solo show, I realized that the smaller of the two was ideal for an installation, which I’d never done but wanted to. Voila! I cut the damaged canvas into strips of varying widths while maintaining the continuity of the original image, hung them with fishing line from three wood planks mounted on the supports for the light fixture, and used a cone-like shipping material to cover the wood planks. The strips of canvas were hung low enough so that viewers could walk among them and experience the water damage.
“This process has led to developing concepts for the Palm Springs Art Museum Artists Council Experimental Exhibit at Copper Mountain College in Joshua Tree next spring.”
In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
“By reminding myself that in my Buddhist practice, which is based on the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, obstacles are to be welcomed as a way to strengthen my resolve. I also reflect on the source of my creativity and inspiration, the concept of the impermanence and ever-changing aspects of life, and this re energizes me and facilitates visualizing the way the artworks start to come alive.”
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting a career as an artist?
“Know yourself; learn about the business side of art; and network, network and network with fellow artists and become involved in arts organizations.”
What book is on your nightstand right now?
“Hockney on Art by David Hockney looks at art history from a contemporary perspective while considering “the influence of Picasso and Rembrandt as well as Eastern conventions.” It’s such a fresh, different way to think about art history, including my historical influencers.”
What does the world need more of?
“Optimism, trust, innate respect for all people and acceptance of differences.”
What is your no-fail go-to when you need inspiration or to get out of a creative rut?
“Long walks, reading about or viewing documentaries of artists’ biographies, talking to other artists, visiting galleries and museums, and staying true to the focus of my artwork—the concept of expansion. This includes expansion of the visual space within the canvas; expansion of the principles that guide my creative process in moving from a surrealistic approach; expansion and refinement of my color palette from a minimalist color scheme to colors that are more reflective of my current environment, the desert; and placing the organic with the abstract to create a contrasting effect incorporating dream-like or mystical metaphors. I let the works take me in new and unexpected directions.”
Name an artist past or present whom you admire or look up to. And why.
"My inner vision as an artist is set against this backdrop of historical influencers: Hieronymus Bosch for "his use of fantastic imagery and placement"; the Dutch Masters and in particular, Vermeer for his 'masterly treatment and use of light'; Gustav Klmt for his 'elegant and decorative elements'; Georgia O'Keeffe for her cony=toured forms that are replete with transitions of varying colors'; and Rene Magritte for 'his ability to place ordinary objects in unfamiliar spaces'. “Among more recent artists, I’m drawn to works by Carmen Herrera for her sophisticated simplicity and Francis Bacon for the emotionally charged but somehow mysterious elements in his work.”
What is your personal or professional motto?
“Never Give Up. Paraphrasing an adage, If you’re on a 10-mile journey and you stop at 9 miles, you’ll never know what the rest of the journey might have held for you.”
What called you to being an artist?
“My impetus to become an artist evolved in both tangible and intangible ways—tangible from my mother’s encouragement by enrolling me in Saturday art classes and intangible as a means of communicating visually rather than through the spoken word.
“In addition, the impetus has been driven by a commitment I made to myself to return to my art. After doing so, I was confronted with the prospect of losing most of my possessions due to a combination of molds and asbestos exposure following rain storms and the experience of dealing with the uncertainty surrounding my son’s liver transplant—not as tragedies but as opportunities to refocus the way I approach and confront each blank canvas with a new kind of urgency, courage and excitement—all at the same time.
“With these drivers, as the natural (metaphoric) images evoke contrasts with the abstract (confronting the viewer with their interdependence), I am drawn directly onto the canvas, watching the shapes and colors evolve and change as the dynamic of the contrasting elements takes shape. This unfolding mystery of complex spatial systems is what compels me to continue painting, anticipating viewers’ responses to the dramatic challenges of change, infused with great expectation.”
What quotation or saying inspires and motivates you to be yourself and do what you love?
“’When we create or appreciate art, we set free the spirit trapped within. That is why art arouses such joy,’ from Daisaku Ikeda, President of Soka Gakki-International.”
Name a professional challenge that keeps you up at night.
“My biggest challenge is to quiet the many thoughts and ideas for my paintings.”
What would you tell yourself 10 to 20 years ago that you wish you knew then?
“This is a double-edged sword. I would never have had the phenomenal experiences afforded me as a businesswoman traveling the world, so I would not want to diminish this, but in hindsight, the decision to transition from business to art might have happened sooner had I known then what I know now.”
What is the first thing you do every morning to start your day on the right foot?
“I begin each day with my Buddhist practice, chanting ‘Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,’ and then I go for a walk.”