Santa Monica-based artist Barbara Kolo, who is influenced by impressionist, aboriginal and Asian art, shares her background and creative life with JW.
By Linda Marx
As a young girl growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Barbara Kolo was always drawing. Her aunt was a fashion illustrator and her older sister was involved with art. Naturally, Kolo was fascinated by the creative nature of the women around her and delved right in.
“I was five or six years old, and I remember always drawing with my sister,” says Kolo, who now lives in Santa Monica, California, with her husband. “By the time I was 12, I got serious about art. I drew on my own, everything from life pictures to representational art.”
After attending the High School of Art and Design in New York City, she earned a 1981 B.F.A. from New York City’s School of Visual Arts. She began working in graphic arts, then became an art director and specialized in film and television advertising for the next 18 years. “I worked on Clint Eastwood films like Tightrope,” she says. “I was also known for my work on Jungle Fever with Spike Lee.”
The work was high profile, demanding and time-consuming yet quite interesting and exciting.
But by 1989, the industry had changed. Kolo, now known for her abstract and pointillist art works, moved to Los Angeles where much of movie marketing was based. She stayed mostly in the film business, working for every studio imaginable, but saved weekends to satisfy her own artistic passions.
“I drew on weekends to de-stress,” she remembers. “I showed my work casually, but then I decided to make a change. I had been living on deadlines and was so stressed out that my health suffered. I wanted to do more of my own drawing and painting.”
By the 1990s, she gradually did just that. Her art at that time was mostly pastels, charcoal and large flowers, but she was happy and fulfilled.“They were representational, and looked like dancers,” she says of her early drawings.
We’ll Always Have Paris
As she became more comfortable with the transition to a new creative life, her husband, who was working for Disney in the theme park division, was sent to Paris to develop the French version of Disneyland. So Kolo went along and loved the enriching experience, which helped her grow as an artist.
While living in Paris, she had the opportunity to develop her talent in one of the most creative and exciting environments in Europe. “It was fantastic,” she says. “I had my best studio there by La Bastille. It was gorgeous going to work every day.”
Kolo faced challenges with the language, but she could read French and eventually learned enough to get by comfortably. She enjoyed working at her studio and treated the day-to-day trek like a job. This gave her a sense of purpose while delighting in the culture and charm of Paris. She drew faces of people she knew, of Greek and Italian sculptures, and of many other sights.
“I would paint on squares and put it together,” she recalls. “I also did other work and connected with the art community. I even showed my work at the American Chamber of Commerce. Being in Paris was an incredible challenge but I got a lot done. It was a great experience.”
She also took an art history class at the WICE association in Paris. She concentrated on the impressionist period and met serious art people who were also studying. “I got interested in impressionism at that school, and it affected my type of work going forward. I put a modern twist to it.”
Return to California
After two years, the couple left Paris and relocated temporarily on the East Coast while Kolo’s mother was ill. By the time they returned to Santa Monica eight months later, she noticed that things had changed in the art world. She had to do more for herself, get her name out, and participate in art fairs and festivals.
“I now have two dealers and do lots of shows and festivals,” says Kolo, who works from a studio in the artsy Los Angeles neighborhood of Venice, located near beautiful canals about six blocks from the beach.
Kolo is interested in how other cultures use circles and dots in their work. Much of her own work has a stillness that she believes evokes a time of reflection. She is inspired by nature and greatly influenced by impressionist, aboriginal and Asian work. She has developed a graceful and meditative visual language using dots, circles and lines. “The paintings grow organically, with any resulting symmetry and order happening in the moment,” she believes.
Her pointillist landscapes reflect on the poetic movement of natural forms but are never strictly representational. She describes her focus on materiality and application process as “a spectrum of shades and hues pulsating rhythmically across her canvas, but there is no evidence of brushstrokes, and colors are never blended. Instead, she uses a controlled method of drips on canvas and/or a process of painting dots across the surface.”
Viewers enjoy the dizzying swirls of drips or dots as well as the gestural elegance of the natural forms.
A normal day for the artist begins with correspondence and computer work where she retouches her own images. In the afternoon, she heads for her Venice studio. “I like it there where I take lots of walks around the canals,” she says. “But I am consumed with work.”
Her recent show was called “Blue” where she exhibited minimal color pieces each containing the color blue. “I did a piece with many dots and created works using seven different shades of blue,” she says. “I got good response at this show and want to do more work focusing on one color.”
She is preparing for a group show in April at the University of Southern California where 18 artists and scientists are involved. It was put together by a curator in the medical field, and she was included because of her work in patterns and color.
Next fall, she will participate in an Italian exchange show with other artists from the U.S. and Italy. The show will be presented in a Naples, Italy gallery-villa called Art 1304. “I am creating new work for this event,” she says. “One large piece looks like a graphic interpretation of a line of trees in the snow.”
After this show, she has a third upcoming exhibition in Oakland.
Although she is busy preparing for these three exhibitions as well as continuing to research Australian and Asian art, which have influenced her work in recent years, she is constantly inspired by travel, walking in the Santa Monica mountains and seeing the colors of nature which find their way onto her abstract landscapes. She also likes to bike ride for similar inspiration and relaxation.
When Kolo and her husband go to Orlando—he now works for Universal Studios and goes back and forth to Florida—she gets ideas from the various theme parks, including the Wizarding World of Harry Potter which she found fascinating.
I need constant inspiration even though I am so busy,” she says. “And my art takes time. It is important to me so I never rush it.