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Q&A with Barbara Bose

Tell us about your artistic background story and if there was a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your path as a visual artist?

I feel that I picked up where I left off in another lifetime, because drawing was a skill I always had. As a child, I spent quite a bit of time sketching in my bedroom, sheltered in place from an often abusive family atmosphere, so art and music allowed me a much needed mental, physical and emotional protection. I won some awards in high school and had a solid reputation as an A+ art student which helped me see myself with that identity. My parents were not supportive of an artist’s life path for me because they saw artists as impoverished. They had no grounding in art’s importance. Although they paid for 3 semesters of art school at the prestigious Boston Museum School, they withdrew me from after they saw my unflattering etching of them. In a left-handed way, their obstructions inspired me to plow ahead to prove a point.

Was there ever a moment of doubt to question your art career entirely? 

When I was eight months pregnant with my second child I had to get a job to support my family. The only job I landed was in the Classified Ads department of a small suburban newspaper. One day while pasting up a “St. Patty’s Day Used Car Sale-abration” ad, I looked down at my talented hands making that crappy thing and felt I had hit rock bottom. After lunch I happened to be in the elevator with the Publisher and mustered the nerve to ask him if I could illustrate any stories for the newspaper. A short time later I was given an assignment to illustrate an editorial. Soon afterwards the publisher asked me to start an editorial art department which was the actual beginning of my career in publication design.

What is your daily routine when working in your studio?

I get many ideas while riding my bicycle, so I start my day with a 6-mile ride around my neighborhood. When I get an idea I stop and send the idea in an email to myself. Except for my bike ride, I don’t really have a set routine for inspiration because I do a lot of things in a day.

I live in Florida so the weather is usually great. My painting studio is my air conditioned garage. The first thing I do when I am going to paint is turn on some music or a podcast. (Lately I’ve been listening to some wonderful YouTubes about the nature of consciousness). I like to work alone so I also sing and dance when I am stepping back to think or see my work from across the room.

Besides painting, I do quite a lot of work on the computer which is in a converted bedroom in my house. I often save images I see online as references for paintings. I take photos almost every day because there is almost always something amazing to witness, and my compulsion is to share and spread the beauty.

Take us through your process of making your artworks. How do you move from an idea to an artwork?

Naturally artwork begins with an idea. I start with a small sketch because if it doesn’t work well small and reduced to its simplest elements, it won’t work at any size. I gather my reference materials to tape to a board within my view where I will be painting and also hang my phone with the image nearby to check the color. Ideally I make sure I have the ‘mise en place’ – all of the pieces I’m going to need, like the correct variety of brush sizes, brush cleaners, lighting, music and room temperature before beginning.

I determine the overall tone of the panting and wash the canvas with that color. Then when that’s dry I usually draw on the canvas with a charcoal or pastel or soft pencil or outline the form with a brush or block in with white for the underpainting. I often have at least 2 paintings going on at the same time because I am often waiting for something to dry. I have a large industrial fan which I position close to the artwork for drying when I am done for the day.

My paintings take a while – they almost never happen in one day, with the exception of my miniature paintings which are outlined with a mechanical pencil and the painted in acrylic.

Is there a central concept connecting all your works together or each series or artwork is unique?

I would be bored if I had to do the same thing over and over. Interestingly, the illustrations for the memoir I wrote (Tree of Lives by Elizabeth Garden) were all pre-existing pieces I had created in the past – most for publications, and some just for myself. But they seemed to fit perfectly in the story I was telling.

Would you like to give a particular interpretation of your work to your viewers or you prefer to leave the whole interpretation to your audience?

I think it’s more stimulating for the viewer to leave the interpretations up to them. I think its OK to leave a few breadcrumbs such as a good title, but to me, it seems the whole point is to get people to think and relate however they may.

How do you seek and use inspiration for your works?

Ideally I paint something to paint, for the pleasure of it instead of for a final product. It is my way of loving beauty by exploring all of the nuances of a thing.

For me, ideas are constantly developing — in dreams, in odd happenstances that have significance, in places or images I have captured on my phone that have a magical feeling to them, or because there is some need for something at the moment, like a commission or a gift for someone or to memorialize something or someone.

When I work I often entertain an inner dialogue with whom I imagine are the spirits of departed teachers, friends, even masters if I have an especially hard question. Or my grandfather for practical matters. He was a carpenter and a kind and patient man who I liked to watch work. I feel art begins in the spirit world and if successful, reconnects the observer back to it once again.

I see art as a doorway that transports us without the burden of language or the restrictions of time. Hopefully my artwork will last longer than I will, and my silent voice will resonate onward. Creating visual beauty (and by beauty I mean an image that elevates, even if it’s ugly), is the easiest language and we all speak it fluently because we all dream. I keep a dream diary and mine them for ideas, and often do art while I sleep.

How do you select your artworks subjects? Where they come from? 

The best scenario is when I have a patient and thoughtfully lit model to paint. The next best thing is to take a good photo of a subject to work from. Sometimes I paint from photos I captured from Facebook, but I don’t offer those for competitions because I worry about infringing someone’s copyright.

When working from photos, I print the image and tape it to a board next to my canvas. I also look at the image on my phone for better color and clarity. The phone is great because I can blow up parts of an image. My phone has a ring on the back so I can hang it at eye level.

Is there an artwork or series that you would like to be remembered for?

Lately I have been concentrating on formal animal portraits. I want the viewer to relate to their natural, unadorned, unfake beauty and hopefully see that they are our precious teachers. Many of an animal’s aspects can be mirrors of our own nature. For example, “Diane,” the painting of a Harpie Eagle, has the same resting look as a woman I know named Diane – preening, defensive, taken aback, ready for insult.

It blows my mind that all creatures, like us, have all evolved to survive in their specific roles (though I’m not 100% sure what the role of humans is). Each living creature is designed to breathe, sense, eat, procreate, grow, adapt, wither, die, etc. I don’t have the instinct to make up abstractions because what exists is quite interesting enough. I also have a created a large number of unique miniature portraits for friends who will remember me on an individual level.

The ingenious variety of life forms, and the insanely clever packaging, (an egg, a vegetable, a cloud, a feather) never fail to impress me. As part of our everyday landscape, we naturally take these for granted.

Any upcoming works or future projects that you would like to share with our readers?

Unfortunately my current series has been focused on family estrangement. I wrote a book explaining these pieces in a book that’s on Amazon called The Art of Estrangement. It’s a bit like art therapy in that it relocates my sadness to a place beyond the confines of my heart.

What are your art influences? Who are your favorite contemporary or historical artists and why?

For contemporary art I like the work of Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud…others I can’t think of but always people with representational chops. My art library contains diverse early influencers such as Aubrey Beardsley, Albrecht Durer, Maxfield Parsh, Leonardo DaVinci, as well as Dutch, Chinese and Indian art.

When I was young I copied the works of DaVinci and Van Eyke. At the Boston Museum School I took a technical painting class to learn the old masters’ techniques and I still use the underpainting and glazing techniques for portraiture.

If you could meet one of your ideal artists from the past, who would it be and what will you ask about?

I would like to meet DaVinci because not only did he possess magnificent artistic ability, he had the curiosity and inventive mind of a scientist who was inspired by nature’s examples. I would ask him what his early influences and inspirations were. I would have like to have met Durer to learn how he made those fabulous intricate wood cuts, I would have loved to assist Parish, and I would like to have hung out with Beardsley. I bet he was a hoot.

Define today’s artworld from your point of view as an artist.

Why so much attention on the artist instead of the art itself? In 500 years who will care about my backstory? I think there’s WAY too much emphasis on celebrity and the palette of street art, which is basically what’s available in Krylon.

Describe your art in 5 words.

More than what you see.

Tell us what do you love most about being an artist.

I celebrate a thing’s beauty by painting it. It’s a blessing to see the world differently than many do because for me, the world is never boring.

I am constantly blown away by the astounding genius behind life’s myriad life forms, landscapes and tableaus. The incredible packaging of a seed, the perfectly sinister shape of an alligator, the roundness of a towering thunderhead, the light on a craggy cliff. I love and appreciate ALL of life’s amazing forms – from the tiniest germ to a planet – it’s forever entertaining. I also like to remind everyone that we are part of this amazing system as well and are in relationship with it.