How did you get started and then develop your career?
Barbara Coleman: I trace it back to a startling moment in Rome when I was ten. Standing in a dimly lit church, my legs aching, I was transfixed by Michelangelo’s statue of Moses. My eyes hadn’t quite adjusted from the brilliant light outside. We had just walked from the Coliseum, I was tired and didn’t want to look at more art. I had a kid’s case of “art poisoning” from the long museum visits the day before. I assumed it would be one more boring statue. I gasped. Moses shifted his penetrating eyes and looked at me. I shivered in the chilled air. Was it real? Or just a cloud passing overhead, altering the light on his face? To this day, I can’t be sure. Michelangelo’s power to sculpt stone into life touched my deepest being and awakened my desire to be an artist. From then on, I searched to find “living” art; art animated by Beauty. We lived in France and Germany for three years and traveled to many of the great museums in Europe. It became a treasure hunt to find living art, like Rembrandt’s portraits and Monet’s water lilies. I wanted, more than anything, to learn the mysteries of how to make paint speak.
I went to France to study painting during college. Painting became my North Star. But I didn’t know how to be an artist. My father had died and my mother rightfully urged me to be self-sufficient. Disdainful of the notion of becoming a secretary, I wanted meaningful work in the wake of my passion, that paid the bills, and allowed me to paint. Flash-forward to earning a Masters Degree in Community and Regional Planning, working as an Urban Designer, and starting a new family. I began showing my pastels in galleries and winning awards in nationally juried shows. I later became a professor at the University of New Mexico (UNM) School of Architecture and Planning, teaching drawing and design studios. I started to paint in oils. The galleries I showed in welcomed my oil paintings. I had a third child. My mother died. Her death underscored the brevity of our lives. I asked myself: “If I only had six months to live, how would I spend my time?” There was only one answer. I resigned from UNM to paint full time. I also managed my husband’s and my ecological restoration company to restore rivers and wetlands.
It has been a long process of learning to express myself authentically in paint. I’ve had the privilege of studying with generous, great artists: Kevin Macpherson, Scott L. Christensen, Jill Carver, Kathryn Stats, Ray Roberts, Peggi Kroll Roberts, Ian Roberts and John Poon. I also collect their work. Painting is a great adventure demanding attention, curiosity, study, practice and play. As John Ruskin wrote: “Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort.”
How do you describe success?
I feel successful when an artist I greatly admire chooses my work to win an award, or I am given the opportunity to show in prestigious art exhibitions and sell my work. More importantly, success is overcoming resistance and showing up for myself; going into the studio (or plein air) and immersing myself in the act of painting. Solving visual problems. Being in the Flow. And maybe, just maybe, after all my effort, desire and intention, my painting will come to life. When it does, it feels like something far more than success. It feels like grace.
How do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in great works of art and in quiet moments when I drop all pretenses and am present in nature.
To see more of Barbara Coleman’s work, visit: www.barbaracoleman.com