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The Mysterious Painting on the Wall: Interview w. Barbara Falk

The Mysterious Painting on the Wall: Interview w. Barbara Falk

By: Lauren Royer

Cover Image By: Barbara Falk

A large, menacing tsunami takes up the entire scene. It appears ready to crash down on the tiny, individual homes in the foreground of the painting. The homes, all different in style and details seem unaware of the tsunami, or of each other. While looking at the houses you forget the tsunami looms in the background for a moment. It's dark. Very dark. 

This painting, is a work by artist Barbara Bustetter Falk, circa 1976. I became obsessed with it as it hung in my boyfriend's living room. It belongs to his roommate, gifted to him by his grandmother. After staring at the painting and being lost in it one too many times, I noticed the artist's signature on the bottom right. Who was she? Is she still around? What do her other pieces look like? Why did she make this piece? 

The answer to those questions would be harder to find than I thought. A librarian at the Portland Museum of Art laughed when I said: "I've basically forgotten how to research anything beyond Google", and agreed as she, had also first gone to Google to help me in my quest. With very little information on the (female!) artist whose primary production years were 1970-2007 found on the internet and an outdated Wordpress website created by Falk… I almost gave up. Then Barbara messaged me in response to a comment made on her site. She had a brand new website with her works and better yet, she agreed to do an interview with me.

Her career is truly fascinating. Now 90 years old, we talked about her career in its entirety. She has had works displayed in museums across the world and has been featured in news articles. We discussed our shared love of natural disasters, the reality of global warming, and the art culture of Tucson’s past in the form of generic cowboys and indians. I hope you enjoy reading her perspective as much as I enjoyed seeing hers.

Do you still create? If so, what mediums?

I am still painting today! I’ve only ever painted using acrylic on canvas. Being completely self-taught, I don’t know how I’d go about using anything different.

What is a medium you’ve always wanted to explore?

Oil paints… because artists/friends have told me it’s much easier to blend colors and there are times I’ll get idea for a painting but I probably need a little help starting with oils because I’ve never used them.

LR: It also seems hard to explore other art mediums because of the cost of supplies, and then what happens if you don’t like them?

BF: It’s appalling the costs today! The cost to do a big painting in the past was around $50 and now it’s in the hundreds of dollars. I look at large abstract work and I don’t know how artists today do it.


What do you find most fascinating about artists?

It’s not so much about the art, but the people who do it right? I spend so much time painting alone and a lot of pieces take a great deal of time to complete.  I wish I could be part of a community of artists again, that is what is missing here in Tucson for me. I have been part of artist communities in the past and it was special to have that support.


Describe the feelings you had when painting your first painting? The mural on the Deux Chevaux (Doo Chavoh)?

I saw the car when I was in Paris and when we got to the states I ordered one in yellow... in about 6 months it showed up in a drab gray. One day I was driving along and saw a shop that had automotive paints. I asked if they could be painted on with a brush- they could... I painted a mural all over and a year and a half later… I had a career. I was definitely in the moment while I was creating. The peace movement was big at that time so my mural was of peaceful animals.

 What is like having your works in museums across the globe? How did you distribute your paintings and how did the museums see them?

What is “it like”…It’s thrilling! It’s absolutely thrilling! My career happened so fast. I was 40 when I started painting.  I just couldn’t believe it. I found people were so receptive and so helpful. Everything just seemed to happen. There was an artist guild where, where annually, people could submit their work as part of a contest. I had just finished a big painting of my Grandparent’s home in Laurel Canyon. My artist friend said I should enter it into the guild. I told her I’d be laughed out of the show but she insisted. As I walked through the parking lot to submit my piece I expected everyone to laugh at me. Then, to my surprise, there was a big article in the local paper that I had won first prize. From then on, things just seemed to go from there.

Do you think art/society will ever return to only accepting formalized format of works? What do you imagine the art of 100 years from now to look like?

I hope that I don’t know! I think if art stopped evolving it would be very boring. It’s already evolved since I was first creating. My paintings were considered folk art and to me, that’s always felt very quaint. That was a style however, the cutesie, quaint paintings. I imagine people will never stop expressing in their own styles, and I certainly hope it’ll continue to evolve beyond what we accept as art today.


What do most of your days look like now?

I haven’t painted as much as I did. I’ve been very distracted on what’s going on in the country.

LR: We all are, it’s very surreal.

BF: It’s really scary!

LR: I’ve noticed in times of turmoil and upheaval, the arts tend to boom as people turn to expression to cope with the forms of unhappiness they feel.

BF: That’s true! I’m actually doing a painting of Trump’s house in Florida- It’s completely submerged underwater. He doesn’t believe in global warming but it’s happening.

LR: That’s AWESOME! With everything going on, that’s the biggest thing for me too. Our mother earth is dying and we’re all so scatter-focused on so many issues. I sincerely hope there is an alligator in your painting!

BK: There is an alligator! He’s floating in a pool with some yellow hair coming out of his mouth.

‘America' Mourns’ ~ Found on Barbara Falk’s website

‘America' Mourns’ ~ Found on Barbara Falk’s website

 When looking back at your career, what can you contribute most of your success to?

Connecticut is a really interesting place. There was an art critic from that area named Martha Scott. She really became one of the biggest influences. I also worked for George Caspari, (fine arts publisher)- I did creating cards for them, and he sent me to Zurich to paint as well. And finally, all of my artist friends who encouraged and pushed me to get my work out there.

What advice do you have for budding artists?

Express yourself! Your work needs to be known at a glance as your work. If you try to emulate another artist it will slow down your success.


What is your favorite painting of yours?

‘The Flood’ is my favorite. It was my first experimental painting. I wanted it to look as though the rain was coming down through the atmosphere.


View Barbara’s continued works here and learn more about her. We will be working to submit her to the Female Artist page on Wikipedia. Thank you Barbara for inspiring us with your gift.

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