The Heroine’s Journey of Barbara Rachko

What is the best thing that I love about my work?

There are countless things to love! I make my own schedule, set my own tasks, and follow new interests wherever they lead. I am curious about everything so I am rarely bored. In my quest to become a better artist, I am using pastel in ways that no other artist has ever done. I continually strive to push my pastel techniques further. After 34 years as a professional visual artist, there is still so much to learn.

What is my idea of happiness?

I love walking into my studio every morning and feel calmer the moment I arrive. My studio is an oasis in a chaotic city, a place to make art, to read, and to think. It is my absolute favorite place in New York City, period! I still find the whole process of creating a pastel painting completely engaging and am happiest when I am working to solve some technical issue in the artwork that’s on my easel.

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What is my greatest fear?

My greatest fear is that there will be a fire in the studio and much of my life’s work will be destroyed, if not in the fire then by the firemen who respond. Once, I watched a fire being put out in a building across from my studio. While I understand it was unavoidable, the violence – firemen bashing in windows, etc. – and the amount of water used were shocking to witness. Had any fragile art works been present in that space, they would have been lost.

What is the trait that I most deplore in myself?

I would not use the word ‘deplore,’ but sometimes I wish I were not so detail oriented. This trait serves me well most of the time. I love rendering details in my pastel paintings and indeed, I am known for the lavish amount of detail I put into them.

However, I become annoyed by errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc., and other trifles that are of little consequence. Probably, this comes from the fact that I am a retired Navy Commander. At Naval Officer Candidate School in Newport, RI, and for 21 years afterwards, the Navy’s “attention to detail” motto was drummed into us.

Which living persons in my profession do I most admire?

I admire the career success that Cindy Sherman has had. Initially, she was discovered in her 20s just out of Yale as part of the “Pictures Generation” because her work captured the 70s zeitgeist. Sherman is by far the most well-known artist of my generation, plus, many years later, her work still continues to evolve in fascinating ways.

What is my greatest extravagance?

My greatest extravagance is foreign travel. Generally, I travel abroad once a year with an archeological-focused tour company based in Northern California. These trips provide endless inspiration for my work. Indeed, my current series, “Bolivianos” would not exist had I not travelled to Bolivia in 2017.

On what occasion would I lie?

I would and do lie to spare other people’s feelings. I see no reason to be mean to anyone. Most of us are doing the best we can.

What is the thing I dislike most in my work?

I dislike the fact that all too often, artists remain unappreciated while they/we are alive and do not share in the rewards of having devoted decades in the struggle to make art against mind-numbing odds. Americans, in particular, revere sports figures and celebrities, but neither appreciate nor understand artists. Most artists do whatever is necessary to keep creating meaningful work, all while we are ignored, misunderstood, and/or belittled. This unfortunate situation has existed for artists throughout history.

At present I have few illusions about the difficulties of being an artist. Somehow, I still manage to tell myself, “Ignore the setbacks and work like there’s no tomorrow.” At some point this will be true.

When and where was I the happiest, in my work?

I am happy now. I believe I am doing my best work ever and finally, after 34 years, my focus, persistence, and tireless hard work are paying off. In the last four months (during a pandemic), my work has gained representation with galleries in London and Sweden.

If I could, what would I change about myself?

Although I am happy with my life now, I would like to be able to turn back the clock in one respect. How wonderful it would be to have the same energy I had in my 30s! Then I was able to make art for 10 hours or more, six days a week. Now my studio day is limited to 6 or 7 hours, five days a week.

I need to mention here that in my 30s and 40s I had the love and support of my soulmate, Dr. Bryan C. Jack. Bryan did everything possible to help me reach my goals. Read more below, in # 24.

What is my greatest achievement in work?

It is the fact that I have become a Master Pastel Artist. I invented and developed my own techniques that I believe, qualify as a new science of color. Indeed, I am “Revolutionizing Pastel as Fine Art!”

Where would I most like to live?

Right where I am. I love the West Village in New York City, where I have lived since 1997.

What is my most treasured possession?

When I left the active duty Navy in 1989, one of the parting gifts I received was a small plaque from a young enlisted woman whom I had supervised.  The words on the plaque deeply resonated with me, since I was about to make a significant and risky career change.  It was the perfect gift for someone facing the uncertainty of an art career.  The plaque hangs on the wall behind my easel, to be read every day as I work.  It says:

“Excellence can be attained if you…

Care more than others think is wise…

Risk more than others think is safe…

Dream more than others think is practical…

Expect more than others think is possible.”

I continue to live by these wise words.

What is my most marked characteristic?

I believe it is honesty. In fact, my sister recently remarked that I am the only person who has never lied to her.

What is my most inspirational location, in my city?

My studio in Chelsea. Please see # 2.

What is my favorite place to eat and drink, in my city?

New York is chock-full of superb restaurants so it’s tough to choose one. But if the question is, “What is my favorite neighborhood restaurant,” the answer is Meme, a Mediterranean place three blocks from my apartment. It’s got great, healthy food, it’s cozy and quiet (noisy restaurants are ubiquitous in NYC), and the prices are reasonable.

What books influenced my life and how?

My favorite art book is “Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice” by JF Martel. It is a constant companion, kept in my backpack to be reread whenever I have spare moments. I’m still finding new insights to savor and ponder.

I love to read and to quote from books that influence and inspire me. For eight years I have been publishing blog posts twice a week. I am proud of the fact that my blog now has more than 61,000 subscribers! Every Wednesday I publish “Pearls from artists,” short excerpts from books I am currently reading. Please see for examples.

You Only Die Once. What music would I listen to on my last day?

I would probably listen to “The Koln Concert” by Keith Jarrett, over and over, plus every album by Joni Mitchell.

Who is my hero or heroine in fiction?

I’d have to say Dorothy in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum, partly because Dorothy was my mother’s name. For obvious reasons, the movie was a favorite of hers, released when she was just 10 years old. It used to be broadcast on television once a year and we always watched it together.

Who are my heroes or heroines in real life?

Helen Keller is a heroine of mine and I find myself quoting her often. For example, two of my favorites are, “Life is a daring adventure or it is nothing” and “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” I firmly believe both and try to live my life accordingly.

Another is van Gogh, the ‘patron saint’ of artists who are grossly underappreciated while they are alive. At the moment I am reading a new book called, “Vincent’s Books” by Mariella Guzzoni. Also, van Gogh’s letters have long been an inspiration. I reread them often.

Which movie would I recommend to see once in a lifetime?

“Maiden” is a thrilling 2018 documentary about an all-female crew in the Whitbread Round the World Yachting Race. It was screened in a film class at the School of Visual Arts in New York and we got to meet Tracy Edwards, the skipper, during a Q and A. The movie is an inspiring yet little-known story about overcoming gender bias. All women can relate.

What role does art play in my life and work?

Art is everything! I spend my time making art, viewing and being inspired by the creations of others, and developing an appreciation for all art forms. Art is humankind’s highest achievement.

What do the words, ’You are the storyteller of your own life’ mean to me?

Those words mean that to a substantial degree we create our own lives, reflect on our experiences, decide what lessons we’ve learned, and tell others the unique story of our journeys. I have always believed this to be true. Please read my most in-depth interview

Who is my greatest fan, sponsor, partner in crime?

Bryan, my late husband, was by far my biggest, fan, supporter, partner in crime, etc. until he was killed on board the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11. I will deal with his absence for the rest of my life. Please read about our life together here and how I coped with his loss

Now my greatest fans are a married couple in Virginia who have collected my work for many years and are dear friends. Both are retired teachers. They save money until they can afford to buy the pastel paintings they desire. In some ways they remind me of the famous art collector couple, Herb and Dorothy Vogel.

Which people or companies would I like to work with in 2020? 

DC Moore, Hauser & Wirth, Mathew Marks, Petzel Gallery, Gagosian, Pace Gallery, Metro Pictures, David Zwirner, Gladstone Gallery, Wendi Norris Gallery

Which people in my profession who can make a real difference in my creative career would I love to meet in 2020?

I would like to meet influential art collectors: Makgati Molebatsi, Catherine Petitgas, Komal Shah, Nadia Samdani, Luba Michailova, Mouna Atassi, Melani Setiawan, Susi Kenna, Carole Server, and Anita Zabludowicz.

What project in 2020 am I looking forward to working on?

I am looking forward to working with two galleries in Europe, in London and Vasteras, Sweden, with whom I recently partnered.

Where can you see me or my work in 2020?

The easiest place to see my work is at and

Whenever possible, art must be seen in person to be appreciated. The best way to see my work is to make an appointment to visit my studio on West 29th Street in New York. Please contact me at or 1-212-643-6293.

What do the words, “Passion Never Retires” mean to me?

I prefer the words “Artists never retire” because when you love your work, you have no intention of ever stopping.

Which creative heroines should Peter invite to tell their story? 

Leah Poller, China Marks, Renee Phillips, Barbara Ellmann, Ann Landi, Lisa Streitfeld, Arlene Rush, Ghada Zaky, Elisa Pritzker, Karin Batten

How can you contact me?

I can be reached at, 1-212-643-6293, or Because I have a significant following in Central and South America, my website is also viewable in Spanish and Portuguese.


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