A few weeks ago in my Greenwoman newsletter I sent out a request–I wanted to get to know my readers better. My goal was (and is) a deeper connection with those who are, like me, in love with the wonders of nature and gardening.
Deb Bartos was one of the first who answered the call. I did not know that she’d been one of the artists to visit my garden last June when I was asked to host a Garden Artists’ visit. (Having painters in one’s garden, by the way, is a pretty humbling, and pretty heady experience. I wrote about it here.) Deb and I got to know one another a little better through some correspondence; I saw her beautiful paintings, requested an interview, and then we met at her art-filled home for some iced herb tea and cookies. Her garden is lovely and mostly xeric (except for the veggies, of course), a cottage garden filled with birdsong and even a charming magpie with an injured wing who is using the property as his recovery area. Her garden features raised beds for produce, lovely flower borders filled with roses, Russian sage, ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum, daylilies, annual flowers, and even a brick labyrinth that Bartos installed herself. With a backdrop of Ute Valley Park and it’s rugged hogsback ridge in the close distance it was a lovely visit–just the garden you would imagine a local artist creating. Of course the visit between gardeners would not be complete without a little trade of plants. Deb said I could give her a couple of rose scented geraniums I had started from cuttings, and a few cucumber seedlings, and I left with daylilys and cosmos.
Flora’s Forum: Tell us a little about yourself, Deb: What got you interested in art? In gardening?
I loved art in school and the field trips we took to museums and the art projects we got to do in class. It opened up a much larger world of possibility than our small town in Kentucky normally provided. As a child, I stayed with my grandmother on weekends. She worked full time and had many chores at home. She set me up at the table with paper she got from work and a pencil to draw with to keep me busy and out of the way. Nana’s neighbor was a commercial artist, who painted Native American children’s portraits. I was fascinated by the beautiful work he did and the idea of doing art for a living. In the 1960’s Dad received Arizona Highways magazines from his sister who lived in Coolidge, Arizona,and I marveled at the scenery.
I took long walks in the woods behind my house in Kentucky, and loved the discovery of plants and animals in nature. My mom planted peonies, which didn’t do well around my father’s passive-aggressive lawn mowing, and she took me to the Conservatory in Cincinnati, across the river, where plants were protected and bloomed all year long in the greenhouse. My uncle grew tomatoes in a greenhouse and they tasted good all through the winter. He earned an award in the Kentucky Agricultural Hall of Fame.
Flora’s Forum: What is your preferred medium and why?
I have tried many mediums and can paint in traditional oil, watercolor, and acrylic, but have found water-soluble oils to be my favorite for the variety of expression, the workability, and the easy cleanup of my brushes.
Flora’s Forum: Do you have a favorite artist/s? If yes, what draws you to that artist/s work?
So many. I’m drawn to the accurate and sublime color changes that occur in nature, the effects that only come from direct observation. Reflected light, detail in shadows, the brightness of contrast. Historically, I greatly admire the work of Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargeant, Joaquin Sorolla, Charles Sovek. I admire many contemporary artists, Matt Smith, Clyde Aspevig, Martha Mans, Deb Komitor, to name a few. I just discovered Don Hamilton’s work at the Governor’s show in Loveland, [he’s from Castle Rock, CO] and his work is my new favorite.
Flora’s Forum: Can you remember one of the first things you painted?
I still have a watercolor painting of a collie I did in grade school. This was a dog who met us in the woods and accompanied us on walks, and I always thought when I grew up I’d get a collie of my own, and I did.
Flora’s Forum: When did you know you were an artist?
In school. I won awards and got a scholarship to attend Baker Hunt Art Academy in Covington, Kentucky. I loved art and seeing what other people had created from their experience. I always wanted to be a commercial artist, like my Uncle Emil, who headed the art department at Dunlop Tire and Rubber, but was told this was not possible, as I would become a nurse like my mother and aunt.
Flora’s Forum: Younger readers may not understand that was the times back then, in the 1950s, not always having control of your vocation as a woman.
Bartos: Yes, career choices were secretary or nurse.
Flora’s Forum: Or teacher!
Bartos: I’ve enjoyed a long career in nursing, and also have been reclaiming my love for art over the years. Another passion of mine is in increasing the inclusion and importance of women artists in the history and ongoing story of art.
Flora’s Forum: Where do you gather most of the inspiration for your work?
Bartos: First hand, from nature. I am drawn by dramatic light and shadow on a subject. I love the masses and patterns of color in flowers and gardens. The dramatic transformation from backlighting gets me every time.
Flora’s Forum:Do you have a story for us about an experience involving your artwork?
Bartos: I’m a member of the Garden Artists group and of the Plein Air Artists Colorado, and go painting with them every chance I get. Last weekend, there was a marathon paintout here in the Springs where artists from across the state came together to paint all day, starting at sunrise (actually before sunrise) at 5 am. It was the first time (and maybe the only time) I completed 5 paintings on location in one day. It was a good challenge.
Flora’s Forum: I love the Garden Artists group; it was a pleasure of having them over to my humble garden last year. I have to say I felt a little intimidated as my garden is not a fancy, expensive one with hired help!
Bartos: We love real gardens, ones that reveal the gardener’s hand and creativity.
Flora’s Forum: What, in your opinion, is the most difficult thing about art?
Bartos: The most challenging is balancing the marketing and sales part with the painting time. I’ve taken trips with my work to Taos, Pueblo, Denver, Loveland, and Evergreen so far this year. I go on these trips for both painting and marketing. [Deb’s work is in the museum at Taos, a Denver gallery, and in Pueblo at the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center.] The biggest frustration I have is that no matter what, it seems there is never enough time to paint, as there are so many ideas I have for paintings, and I see new ones every time I go out the door, look out my window, or look at my photo files on my computer. I do think it has to be this way, as the experience of life adds depth to what shows up and how it shows up on my canvas.
Flora’s Forum: What are your goals? You mentioned a book and teaching classes in one of our earlier conversations–can you go into that?
Bartos: I’ve been creating a Shutterfly book that showcases some of my garden paintings, and would love to have a large venue for a garden paintings show somewhere. I want to increase awareness of my work, and find the perfect homes for my paintings that are for sale. I want to keep on painting, learn and grow as I paint, and enjoy time with other artists painting in beautiful places. I taught Art Appreciation for 7 years at the university level, and would consider a low key plein air class here in my garden, but this is my first summer with just a flextime part-time nursing job, so am enjoying the ability to travel and paint.
Flora’s Forum: Where may we view your work online?
My website is www.debbartos.com, and my facebook page is Deb Bartos Fine Art. I list the most current events and paintings there sooner than on my website.
Flora’s Forum: Thank you for taking the time to share your work with us, Deb. It’s been a pleasure.