We had the good fortune of connecting with Barbara Rachko and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Barbara, how do you think about risk?
My journey to becoming a visual artist was circuitous, to say the least. Risk-taking gave me the life and career I enjoy now. The biggest – and scariest – risk I’ve ever taken was deciding to leave my active duty Naval career to pursue art full-time. The second most significant risk was moving to New York City in 1997. I have never regretted doing either one. When I was 25, and a civilian, I earned my private pilot’s license and spent the next two years amassing other licenses and ratings, culminating in a Boeing-727 flight engineer’s certificate. Two years later I joined the Navy. As an accomplished civilian pilot with thousands of flight hours, I had expected to fly jets. However, women were barred from combat in those days (the 1980s) so there were very few women Navy pilots. There were no female pilots on aircraft carriers and no female Blue Angels. Women were restricted to training male pilots for combat jobs and priority was given to Naval Academy graduates. My BA was from a different university. In the mid-1980s I was in my early 30s and a Lieutenant on active duty in the Navy. Not permitted to fly, I worked a soul-crushing job as a computer analyst on the midnight shift in a Pentagon sub-basement. It was literally and figuratively the lowest point of my life. I hated my job! Not only was it boring, I was not using my hard-won flying skills. In short I was miserable – miserable and trapped because a Naval officer cannot just resign with two weeks notice. Remembering the joyful Saturdays of my youth when I had taken art classes with a local New Jersey painter, I enrolled in a drawing class at the Art League School in Alexandria, Virginia. Initially I wasn’t very good, but it was wonderful to be around other women and a world away from the “warrior mentality” of my mostly male Pentagon co-workers. Plus, I was having fun! Soon I enrolled in more classes and became a very motivated full-time art student who worked nights at the Pentagon. As I studied and improved my skills, I discovered my preferred medium – soft pastel on sandpaper. Although I was certain I had found my life’s calling as a fine artist, I had grown used to a regular paycheck and the many benefits of being a Navy Lieutenant. For more than a year I agonized over whether or not to leave the Navy and lose my financial security. I’d be taking a huge risk: could I ever support myself as an artist? Was I making the dumbest mistake of my life? Eventually, I decided I HAD TO take a leap. I simply adored making art – it challenged me to use all of my skills and talents – while I was unhappy, bored, and unfulfilled working at the Pentagon. But once my mind was finally made up, I still could not leave. Due to geopolitical circumstances, there was a significant delay. The Navy was experiencing a manpower shortage and Congress had enacted a stop-loss order, which prevented officers from resigning for one year. I submitted my resignation effective exactly one year later: on September 30, 1989. Being stuck in a job I no longer wanted nor had the slightest interest in, was truly the longest year of my life! Unlike most people, I can pinpoint exactly when I became an artist. I designate October 1, 1989 as the day I became a professional artist! I have never regretted my decision and I never again needed, nor had, a day job. However, I must mention that I remained as a part-time Naval Reservist for the next 14 years, working primarily at the Pentagon for two days every month and two weeks each year. The rest of the time was my own to pursue my art career. After I moved to Manhattan in 1997, I commuted by train to Washington, DC to work for the Navy. Finally on November 1, 2003, I officially retired as a Navy Commander. Now, I daresay, I am the rare fine artist who can point to a Navy pension as a source of income. I love my life as an accomplished New York fine artist! With the help of two social media assistants, I work hard to make and promote the art I create. My pastel paintings and my pastel skills continue to evolve and grow, gaining more recognition and a larger audience along the way. In addition to making art, I have been a blogger since 2012. The audience for my blog, https://barbararachkoscoloreddust.com/ increases by 1,000 – 2,000 new subscribers each month. Today I have more than 68,500 readers!
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
What sets me apart? I quote from my bio: “Barbara Rachko is an American contemporary artist and author who divides her time between residences in New York City and Alexandria, VA. She is best known for her pastel-on-sandpaper paintings, her eBook, “From Pilot to Painter,” and her blog, “Barbara Rachko’s Colored Dust.” Barbara has led an extraordinary, inspiring life. She learned to fly at the age of 25 and became a commercial pilot and Boeing-727 flight engineer before joining the Navy. As a Naval officer she spent many years working at the Pentagon and retired as a Commander. On 9/11 her husband, Dr. Bryan C. Jack, was tragically killed on the plane that hit the Pentagon. Barbara uses her large collection of Mexican and Guatemalan folk art – masks, carved wooden animals, papier mâché figures, and toys – to create one-of-a-kind pastel-on-sandpaper paintings that combine reality and fantasy and depict personal narratives. Her paintings are bold, vibrant, and extremely unusual. She is “Revolutionizing Pastel as Fine Art!” New York critic Peter Dellolio remarks, “It is undeniable that, like de Chirico, Barbara Rachko has created a unique, original, and very private landscape.” Arts writer Ann Landi writes, “Barbara Rachko’s antecedents are not in the folk art traditions of the cultures she studies and embraces, but rather in the sophisticated strategies of Henry Matisse (who was a master at mixing patterns) and Edgar Degas (who exploited the power of oblique angles and cropped figures).” Barbara exhibits nationally and internationally and has won many awards during her 30+ years as a professional artist.” My BA is in psychology. I did not go to art school. I am most proud of the fact that I invented my own techniques for using soft pastel and through hard work, focus, perseverance, and determination, I turned myself into a master pastel artist. My work is immediately recognizable, unforgettable, and like no one else’s. Oh, my God, no, it has never been easy either to become an artist or to continue being productive over more than three decades! At least in the United States, no one really cares whether artists create art or not. I am sorry to say that, in general, our hard work is neither understood nor valued. As I write, Trump is denigrating the 15 billion dollars for the arts included in the stimulus bill approved by Congress. In answer to other questions, I refer readers to my blog, where I write about what it’s like to be an artist in New York City today and where I share inspirational passages from others that help make this tough journey a little less lonely. https://barbararachkoscoloreddust.com/
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
In Covid times everything is shut down. Hopefully, after Covid the possibilities will be endless once again. For starters we might visit The Metropolitan Museum, MoMA, The Whitney Museum, The Morgan Library, The Brooklyn Museum, The High Line, galleries in Chelsea and the Upper and Lower EastSide, the Metropolitan Opera, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, Broadway theaters, etc. In NYC there is normally no shortage of interesting things to do. In the Meat-Packing District, where I live, there are dozens of great restaurants and bars. It’s tough to choose!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I can think of two. I have been a member of The New York Artists Circle for more than twenty years. NYAC is a large group of visual artists who come together to support each other and share business opportunities. Please see https://nyartistscircle.com/ Also, Ann Landi, the founder of Vasari21, deserves recognition for her support of under-recognized visual artists. Her site is https://vasari21.com/
Other: https://barbararachkoscoloreddust.com/ https://www.barbararachko.art/en/art-market https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HNVR200 http://findingfifteen.com/sample-chapter/
Can I email the photos? My iPad locks and is not allowing me to upload photos.