Flavia Bacarella is an amazing artist whose work pulls you in with its color, its directness, and its life force. She is primarily a painter, with a remarkable eye for color, shade, and mood, so it’s not surprising to hear her say that what she has always “most loved about painting is the visual pleasure I gain from the colors.” You can see this love of color in her paintings of scenes from the farm in upstate New York where she lives with her husband, Keith Stewart, an organic farmer and writer. In all of her paintings, woodcuts, and drawings, you can see her love of her work.
Oops 50 interviewed Flavia Bacarella recently, so that we could introduce our readers to this wonderfully gifted artist and her work.
Oops 50: When/how did you become a painter?
FB: I started painting after graduating as an English major from college. As a child, though, I always was drawn to ‘coloring’ and was totally passionate about my 64-color crayola set. I drew with these crayons non-stop as a kid. But I didn’t study art other than an occasional art course in grade school and high school until after college. When I started studying, I took a drawing course, and the teacher encouraged me to become a painter. I started studying painting at night until I was able to take a fellowship leave and a couple of special leaves without pay in order to participate in both a full-time studio program at the Studio School in NYC and later earn a graduate degree from Brooklyn College.
Oops50: What does painting do for you?
FB: I love mixing the colors, and I am always surprised by the exciting things that happen on the palette and on the canvas that are totally unexpected.” I enjoy making a painting that takes liberties with the subject. I should say that I am mostly a perceptual painter which means that I paint from nature, or from life. But I don’t feel I want to copy what I see so in that sense my imagery is not strictly realistic. I like to straddle the fence between abstraction and figuration.
Oops50: How do you know when a painting is finished?
FB: I’m never quite sure when a painting is finished. But, when working, sometimes I just inexplicably feel that I have to stop, or I’ve had enough, or I need to look and think about the work. Stopping then is generally a good idea in my case because either something is brewing or the thing is done. So I don’t always know if a work is done but often when I don’t know what I could do next, I realize it is finished. It is easy to overwork.
Oops 50: If you had more than one life, what else would you like to do/be?
FB: This week I’ve been watching a series on my computer that was aired on our local PBS channel on Charlie Rose all year long on “The Brain.” I’m totally fascinated and I think that I would turn to that –research on the brain. The mysteries and the unknowns—it’s like a giant puzzle. And I think that it could easily keep me going for a lifetime. One researcher who spoke on the show is a 91-year-old woman. She’s still excited by the field. So that’s what I think today. And maybe if I weren’t teaching and a painter also, I might go into something like film-making for which I have no talent whatsoever, but being with people at work is something I enjoy. Painting alone in the studio can be a little lonely sometimes.
Oops50: How has your painting changed over the years?
FB: I don’t know that it has changed a whole lot. Maybe it shows more confidence thought I am not sure about this. I want it to be looser and sometimes it’s tighter, so you know I can’t say anything too definite. I have explored other areas like collage and woodcut and these two areas show different sides of my esthetic sense.
A little more background on Flavia: she was born in Brooklyn, NY and, in addition to studying at the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting, and Sculpture, she holds an MFA from Brooklyn College. She has a 4-page resume full of group exhibitions, solo shows, publications, reviews, and awards (including a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship in painting in 1986 and grants from CUNY in painting and printmaking). Her day job is as an Associate Professor of Painting and Chair of the Art Department at Herbert H. Lehman College (CUNY) in the Bronx, where she teaches painting, drawing and woodcut. Since 2005, she has been doing woodcuts in addition to painting. In May of 2006, Lohin Geduld Gallery held a woodcut exhibition featuring her illustrations for It’s a Long Road to a Tomato: Tales of an Organic Farmer Who Quit the Big City for the (Not So) Simple Life, written by Keith Stewart. (A new, updated edition of the book, with 14 new woodcuts, was just published in August of this year.) Here’s what Flavia had to say about woodcuts for a catalog of a show that included her work at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design.
“A drawing, for me, has always been a distillation of observation and some more intimate connecting truth about my subject. Through the medium of the woodcut, I have found that I can pursue this approach to an extent greater than pure drawing will allow. When carving directly on wood, with handtools or with a dremel, there is an immediacy and spontaneity which I find totally engaging. I like the resistance of the wood—it imposes limitations that encourage an essential simplicity. In making a woodcut, I am often able to subdue my intellect and sustain a somewhat meditative state of creativity.”
To learn more about Flavia Bacarella, you can visit her website at www.flaviabacarella.net. To see more of her woodcuts or learn more about Keith Stewart’s book, go to http://www.longroadtoatomato.theexperimentpublishing.com.