State of Grace: The Art and Process of Grace Rachow – by M. Talley

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Grace Rachow is known at the “Queen of the World” at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. She has been helping out in one way or another with SBWC for the past 25 years and recently acquired the related title of Director. One of her core passions is helping people improve their public speaking skills via Toastmasters where there is seldom any toast or toasting. She has been doing visual art seriously for about three years. Among the nicknames I’ve dug out of her friends are: “The Queen”, “Rocco,” and “Hopper” (as in Grasshopper, you Kung Fu fans).

I picked these images out of dozens of works to show Grace’s artistic scope, from landscapes, to figurative, to abstract, to just plain odd (my favorite). The artist comments below each piece.
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Broken Heart

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“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
Leonard Cohen

The City

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People like to see real things in abstracts…and why not?

Landscape in Autumn

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Ummmm…no…just another abstract using circles.

Variations

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Putting order to the chaos.

Fresno

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Luna Review: This image is lonely and haunting; the sky is green and yellow vapor gas.

Santa Barbara Mission

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If you live in Santa Barbara, sooner or later you have to address the Mission.

Fiesta Dress

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I wandered around downtown during Santa Barbara’s Old Spanish Days and looked at all the colorful things the street vendors were selling. In a regular store window was a pure white wedding dress. It looked like a blank canvas to me.

Abstract 1
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How many circles and spheres in this universe of ours?

Abstract 2

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Sometimes I completely shut off my mind and allow something to come. I’d like to call that an artistic goal, but once it becomes a goal it is impossible to do.

Sunflowers with Cloud

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Lines like this are a lifelong fixation of mine…lines describing contours. That solitary cloud is so damn humble, but not ashamed…striving for that myself.

Luna Review: Did you do the etching or lines by hand?

The sunflowers image was created digitally, but during the end process I used tools that simulated hand drawing. I kept coming back to this particular piece and doing more work, approaching it different ways. The final pass included a lot of hand work. But the hand work was done digitally. There are apps that simulate the experience of the act of painting and drawing. There are other apps that take a photo and turn it into something that appears to be painted or drawn. Some of these are no-brains-required, cheeseball apps and others are sophisticated tools that require a human brain to operate.

Dan Re-imagined

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Image as communication:
Dan is a real person and friend for 25 years. He had a stroke when he was forty-something and then lost his brother to a brain tumor a decade later. Life has taken its toll but he keeps it together. I wanted to cheer him up. He got what I was trying for here. (Beatific! – LR)

Cage Doll Floating in Water

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This is the kind of image that has to speak for itself.

Luna Review: This piece reminded me of Dadaism, a European art movement which prefigured Surrealism, and is one of the reasons I had to do this article.
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INTERVIEW

Luna Review: I’ve seen your art sprouting up on Facebook for the last two years. How long have you been an artist and did you have any teachers or formal training?

Grace Rachow: I grew up in rural Nebraska and there was no such thing as art education beyond construction paper and round-tip scissors.

When I was 17, I was on a student field trip to Chicago and we went to the Art Institute there. What I saw was eye opening, and when I say my eyes were opened, I mean my eyelids were ripped back with such energy that my scalp and skull were opened, exposing my naked brain.
LR: Sounds like A Clockwork Orange.

While that is not an attractive image, it was my experience. I had no previous idea of what was possible. I wanted to be a part of this mix, but I had to go back to rural Nebraska, and I didn’t really understand what I might do with what I had seen.

I took some drawing classes in college, and I got some instruction, but when college was over, I put my art away for 42 years. There it might have stayed, except one day I cleaned the garage and came across a box of art pencils. I found some paper and started drawing again. That was a little over three years ago, and I have not missed a day since.

LR: Is there a method to your (creative) madness? Do you plan ahead on what you’ll do, purposefully vary the approach from piece to piece, or just pursue what feels right at the moment?

GR: If I have a method, it is to not think too much. People ask me how I work. I really have no idea. Art and thinking are not very compatible. Art is about doing and keeping the mind out of it. The intellect gets in the way…or at least mine gets in my way.

LR: Some of your work is based around photography. It’s hard to tell if some pieces are paintings on canvases, or photos, or images generated on the computer. Is that the point, that it doesn’t matter?

GR: Sometimes I start a project in the physical world, working on paper or some physical surface. More and more I start digitally, working on a large iPad. Sometimes I start from scratch on the iPad, and sometimes I begin with a photo. It doesn’t make a lot of difference to me how I begin or with what. The idea is to start somewhere and get lost and keep making good decisions until I get a finished image.

When I get a digital image I like, I post it on Facebook artist groups where I can get feedback from fellow artists. If something gets a good response, then I know it is worth bringing into the physical realm. Sometimes I use a digital image as a blueprint to create a physical image by hand. Or digital images have the great advantage of being printable, same as a photo.

There is a growing movement of art done on mobile devices, phones and tablets, intermixing photos and art applications. I got caught up in this wave at the same time I rediscovered my colored pencils and started drawing a few years back. The digital and physical are very intermixed for me. I don’t spend much time making these distinctions unless asked. The way I see it is the digital revolution has increased the tools available to artists, but doing art is still the same process, regardless of the tools one uses.

LR: Talk amongst yourself. I have to switch parking spots.
GR: Can you say something regarding abstract vs. realism?

GR: Three years ago I was drawing literal pieces that looked like something in the real world. At a local show of abstract paintings, I talked to a painter who did only abstracts. I said I did mostly realistic drawings. She said that would change. I thought she didn’t know, but she was right. Now I work every day on abstract art…and realistic pieces only occasionally.

Luna Review: Okay, I’m back. Are there modern artists and/or ones from past centuries that you return to either for guidance, inspiration, or just because their work makes you happy?

Grace Rachow: I am not very well schooled in art history. I like to go to galleries and look at what others have done. I like some things better than others, but I don’t spend too much time on my own opinion of things. I don’t think in terms of what I like or don’t like. I look to see what I can learn. I like art that can take me or my art somewhere. When I walked through the Art Institute of Chicago in 1968, every piece in that museum took me to the moon.

LR: Do you need family or friends support/encouragement on each individual piece, or are you satisfied with loved ones supporting your path, and artwork in general?

GR: I think a lot of writers and artists get blindsided by going to spouses or friends and family for approval of their creative endeavors. It is great to have support from loved ones, but so often there are unrealistic expectations and unrelated emotions attached to asking for support or feedback from family and friends. When they are negative or indifferent toward one’s art, it can be painful.
In contrast, when I get a reaction or feedback from a fellow artist, it always feels like a learning experience, whether they offer praise or ideas to improve. Even indifference is useful, as it indicates on a professional level that the piece needed something more.

LR: You mentioned, “Images that are well-received are more likely to get brought into the physical realm.” Have you ever considered showing your work that is on canvas or paper? Can people contact you to buy your physical work, or do you prefer not to sell?

GR: My goal for 2017 is to have a show. A few of my drawings are out in the world already, but I have not had a show. So this year I will move in that direction and will have pieces for sale. Stay tuned.

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Stay Tuned! Next month; next year: The Fervid Imagination of Writer Rick Shaw.

About Max Talley

Max Talley is the author of the near future thriller, Yesterday We Forget Tomorrow, published in 2014. His short fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Two Cities Review, Iconoclast, Del Sol Review, Chantwood Magazine, Gold Man Review, and the Hardboiled anthology from Dead Guns Press. Max's website is http://maxdevoetalley.com
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