THE BIG PICTURE: Barbara Brock’s life and landscapes
Posted on May 25, 2013
One of Barbara Brock’s earliest memories is of her grandmother painting intricate designs on a set of fine china. “In her day that was what a lot of women did for their artistic endeavors, rather than painting on a canvas,” she says. Barbara was a very creative child: art was her favorite subject in school, and her family kept her art supplies well stocked at home.
Still, when she looked for female artistic heroes besides her grandmother, Barbara came up short. “When I was little, I thought Georgia O’Keeffe was George O’Keeffe,” she says with a laugh. It was hard for the young girl to imagine a space for herself in the art world.
The Matthews Gallery’s newest artist has since carved out a niche of her own in the bustling art scene of Taos, New Mexico. As her brilliant monotypes of sweeping landscapes prove, that promising young artist has become a role model like the ones she once wished for.
Barbara was born and raised in Bloomington, Indiana. When she was in high school her family moved from the city to a small college town in Wisconsin. It was a jarring transition, but it hardly stunted her creative output. “In high school I designed posters and edited the yearbook. Anything artsy,” she says.
After studying fine art at the University of Wisconsin, Barbara took a job as the buyer for a clothing store and enrolled in the graphic design program at the Madison Area Technical College. She considered a career in fabric or clothing design for a short time, but marriage and the birth of her son took her on another track. Her husband was a teacher, and the couple spent several years living near the Gallup, New Mexico Navajo reservation where he taught.
“That’s when I really started seeing landscape as just majestic,” she says. “I had never seen sunsets like that, ever. You just don’t see them in the Midwest; there’s too much moisture.” Barbara spent her days caring for her infant son, and would sometimes work until two o’clock in the morning on pastel patinings of Southwestern landscapes.
When her husband got a job in Taos in 1981, Barbara was hesitant at first. “It’s a tiny, tiny little town. To be honest, at first I wanted to move to Santa Fe, which had a little bit more allure,” she says. “After I got here it felt like home, it truly did.”
Barbara spent her first few decades in Taos making pastel paintings and teaching workshops on the medium. At the insistence of her pupils, she would often conduct her classes outside.
“I’d seen people come in from New York City, and they all wanted to do plein air painting,” she says. “They’d stand there with a notebook and they couldn’t for the life of them even sketch it. It’s hard to imagine getting that essence down on a two-dimensional plane.”
While Barbara taught the city folks how to fence in the infinite—she’d often give them small frames to peer through—she was honing her own compositional skills. “I think it takes practice and a real concentrated effort to pare it down and to really feel it,” she says.
About 17 years ago, the artist switched from pastels to printmaking. She hadn’t made monotypes since college, but she bravely enrolled at the University of New Mexico Taos and embarked on a new journey.
“When I first started doing monotypes that was a real struggle,” she says. The process of mixing the inks reminded her of mixing oils, but when it came to preparing the plate there was a big catch. “When you do monotypes, everything is backwards because the image you prepare on the plate is in the reverse when you print them,” Barbara says.
Perfecting the process took a long time, especially as Barbara started to develop her own method of printing. She paints a plate and creates a print, and then repeats the process over and over again to produce multiple “drops”. “It’s an additive medium, similar to my pastel work,” she says. “You kind of get the best of both worlds. It’s a drawing medium and a painting medium simultaneously.”
For Barbara, creating monotypes was “addictive”. She bought her own press, and now spends her days making prints in a studio she shares with pastelist and painter Dinah Worman. For many years the artist worked with a subdued color palette, but the monotypes you’ll see hanging in the Matthews Gallery often feature ribbons of bright orange and red.
“The color just seemed to happen,” she says. “The Taos sunsets really are like that. So often, they practically knock your socks off.” Barbara should know: many an evening, you’ll find her sitting on a mesa outside of Taos watching the sky. She doesn’t bring a sketchbook or a camera, she simply soaks it all in.
As for women in the arts, Barbara is happy to say that she’s now in good company. “I think there are so many more role models,” she says, reminiscing about bumping into Agnes Martin during the famous artist’s years in Taos. “There’s almost as many women artists these days as men. The next generation, I don’t even think it will be a topic of conversation,” she says.