Pacific’s ‘Georgia O’Keefe’ artist brings visual answer to drought problems

Barbara Eberhart with two of her paintings.

Barbara Eberhart with two of her paintings.

Carol Forsloff—-She does not just paint flowers, but those she does are brought to life in a fashion that mirrors that of the famed artist, Georgia O’Keefe.  This talented artist, who transcends the ordinary from Hawaii to California, offers an answer to the problems of drought while bringing others a renewed appreciation of nature created by colors and brush.

I have known Barbara Eberhart for more than 30 years as a dear friend whose gentle heart and immense talent I have come to admire as do many others who have known her over the years.  Eberhart offers all of us a glimpse of what great art can bring, the immortality captured by one’s vision, translated into creations that rise and soar above most others.  An interview with her is in many ways a gift to offer others both visually and in prose about the struggles and achievements of an artist whose work has achieved recognition and can only be defined as great.

Greatness lies in accomplishing the extraordinary as can be done by an artist with vision.  That vision has been developed over many years.  Eberhart’s murals, for example,  allow people to look beyond the damage brought by drought to stunning images that cover earth’s injuries and opens our eyes once again to the beauty of nature at its best.

Painting called Meditation and Prayer shows the Buddha within the garden.

Painting called Meditation and Prayer shows the Buddha within the garden.

The following narrative has been developed through interview questions and tells Eberhart’s journey in her own words from fledgling artist to full master-ship of the art of painting in oils.

1). How old were you when you started drawing and painting?

I was knee high to a grasshopperwhen I began my journey as an artist.  For as long as I can remember I loved creativity, making things.  When the other kids went out to play, Id go in my room to draw pictures.   They had those ads in magazines to draw something, often a girls face, and you could win free drawing lessons with it.  I never sent in my drawings to win, but drawing that girl is etched in my mind.  Ironically, I tend to look like that girl now perhaps.

One of my earliest memories is at Easter time, dyeing Easter eggs.  After the process of decorating eggs, we would pour the rest of the dye down the big porcelain sink in the kitchen.  Watching all the gorgeous colors pouring down, blending with each other, excited me thoroughly.  (Years later, I would love Helen Frankenthalers work for that same look she got with her acrylics and huge canvases.)  I think that must have cemented the idea I would spend the rest of my life with COLOR !

Eberhart with an orchid painting reminiscent of the work of Georgia O'Keefe.

Eberhart with an orchid painting reminiscent of the work of Georgia O’Keefe.

I also have always enjoyed sewing, another talent that came naturally to me.  In my 20s I designed and made clothes, which I proceeded to hand paint onto them.  Beautiful Asian designs on the back of kimonos, long skirts with flowers coming up the front, all with fabric paints that became permanent when ironed onto the clothes.  I co-owned a business that was successful to have gals modeling our clothes in downtown restaurants during lunch.  Eventually I realized I did not want my artwork getting worn out by the washer/dryer, so I focused mainly on paint on canvas.

 

2).  What were your favorite subjects to paint??

My favorite subject to paint has always been some form of Realism.  I need to look at the subject and basically know in my left brain what it is.  Just abstract designs and colors are not enough to hold my interest; I need to be able to relate to the subject with a cognitive objective relationship.   That being said, my real interest is always to look at the painting, and seethe colors, designs, angles, etc. that make up the picture plane, irregardless of the subject matter.  Lately I have been painting floral imagery so close up that it almost looks like am abstract.  But the fun part for me is that it really IS something.

What that something is has usually been a part of nature; often a single item up close and personal.  One of my earliest paintings while still in college is an open scallop clam, and soon after a close up turtle hatching.  I love it when people cant really tell what these images are, they are just intrigued with the look of it.  The subject which continues to draw my attention is any kind of flower, or intimate look at plant life.  I have not lost my fascination for florals in these last 4 decades, and now in California I am excited to paint the foliage of SoCal.  

I have been compared to Georgia OKeefe for decades now, as we seem to share our love of flowers, in very close viewpoint with the petals going off the page.  Both of us have had it pointed out that close inside views of flowers tend to look rather sexy to the casual viewer.  After all, flowers are the reproductive parts of any plant.  I have read that OKeefe disputed this interpretation of her work, as do I.   For ME, looking within the flowers internal organs, much as what a bee would be seeing, is symbolic of looking within ourselves.  In other words, my message is the importance of exploring our internal terrains of emotional, spiritual, and psychological being-ness, rather than the prevalent tendency to see all of our answers outside of ourselves.  I would hope to point the way toward the answers to life as inside of us.  Even the Bible says: the kingdom of God is withinand my flowers show where to look for that kingdom.

Serenity, the title of this painting, reminds us of both inner and outer peace.

Serenity, the title of this painting, reminds us of both inner and outer peace.

I have also done many other subjects, such as the people figured in my Hawaiiana scenes.  Often I use my own children as subject matter to explore some metaphysical or twilight zone idea, such as Shaman Cloud Danceror Beyond Boundarieswhere the figure is literally going from one dimension to another.  I love playing around with edgy, new-age ideas, like Releaseand Receivethat may take the viewer a moment to think about what the message is.  what Fun!

 

3).  What was your favorite medium?  What is it now?

I began with a love for pencil.  I can easily spend a hundred hours on a graphite drawing, as my technique is so fine that the actual pencil lines do not show.  From there I went into Prisma Color Pencils, again with the pencil lines invisible due to the tremendous hours that went into these pieces.  Plus, when I had children and they were babies, I needed to be able to put down my art tools when they woke up from their napsno time to clean up messy paint supplies!

From pencil I explored water color, which I love.  I use it as a very controlled water-based medium, much like acrylic.  In Hawaii, the problem with pencil and/or watercolor is the substrate of paper, which tends to attract mold in humid environments.  Also, they need specific mats and frames to preserve them. And watercolor dries lighter than applied, while acrylic paint dries darker, which can be an unfortunate surprise if not anticipated.

When I learned to work in oil, I basically fell in love!   For so many reasons.   Oil stays the same color when it dries that the artist originally painted.  Oil paint dries slowly, so the artist is able to blend the colors, rework the images, and basically play with it for hours until it eventually dries a day or many days later. (darks dry quicker than light colors)  Since I love the rich softly blended look of colors merging (remember the Easter egg dye experience!)  I really felt drawn immediately to the use of oil.  Plus, I tend to use gallery-wrapped canvaswhich is a fairly modern look with thick canvas edges getting painted as a continuation of the image, thus negating the need for frames at all.   And of course, we know from history, oil paintings can last for centuries without mildewing or fading.

And although most all my paintings on canvas are now in oil, and have been for 40 years, when I paint wall murals, whether interior or exterior, I use acrylic.  It is water based, so cleanup is easy. Plus acrylic can be painted over easily when I want to make changes in the image or design.  I am currently learning to use an airbrush for the first time, since my son gave me an awesome model for my birthday, and that also uses a water-based paint, much like acrylic.

 

4).  What is your training in art?  Where were you schooled?

In high school I took lots of art classes, and my art teachers must have known I had talent in that field, because they wrote letters of recommendation that when I went to college, I could immediately go into upper division art classes.  I am so thankful for that, because I was able to study under Joseph Raphael during the last year he was to teach college, and I have been a big admirer of his work, and he personally as an artist, ever since.

In college, CSU Sacramento, I took painting classes.  Very bold ‘painterly’ techniques were popular back then.  It was suggested I attend America River junior college to learn oil painting from Gary Pruner, which I did for 1 year in the middle of attending the state college.   Pruner’s carefully blended, colorful style appealed to me, and has influenced me most since then.  I continued back at CSUS, where I graduated with a BFA in Art, and learned so much from All the teachers I had, but Pruner’s influence was best for me.

During the summer, after I graduated and before I moved away, I had my first solo exhibit at the student gallery in CSUS.  The show was titled “Up Until Now” and basically showed all the art I had done, up until then.

Bold and beautiful defines Eberhart's work, as reflected in the painting of this orchid.

Bold and beautiful defines Eberhart’s work, as reflected in the painting of this orchid.

 

5).  You once lived in Hawaii.  How long did you live there, and were you involved in art?

I lived in Hawaii for a total of 32 years.  In 1981, when several things in my life came to an end (a job went out of business, a relationship ended, graduated from college, my father died…) I realized I would need to start over everything.  So, instead of continuing in Sacramento, I fulfilled a family dream to go to Hawaii.  But instead of a vacation, I sold everything I owned and bought a one-way ticket, without having ever been on a plane before.  I was young and brazen, but could not have done it any other way!

I continued creating art, as was my plan.  Within the first year living on the island, I met the man who I would marry and father my children.  During those early years I went back to using pencil extensively, with the state of Hawaii purchasing one of my drawings of haleconia for their permanent collection.  In the 80’s I was also commissioned by an interior designer for the Parade of Homes annual showcase, painting a large orchid oil diptych for it.  

Throughout the decades living in Hawaii, many circumstances kept changing in my life, but the one constant was creating art.  I became known throughout the island, with my work finding its way into many collections.  At this point one of my Hawaii collectors owns 27 of my large originals!  I had many solo exhibits there, beginning with the prestigious Ramsay Gallery in the 80’s, Gallery on the Pali, and Cafe Che Pasta to name a few.   I joined Association of Hawaii Artists and was very involved with the co-op gallery Arts of Paradise in the old International Marketplace of Waikiki, where I was lucky to meet so many of the top artists of Hawaii.  I also joined Windward Artist Guild and showed my work in numerous juried shows.

I made giclees of my work which were sold through several outlets like Martin & MacArthur and Island Treasures.  I had become involved with Unity church early on, and when Windward Unity moved their location to a large, bare room in Kaneohe, I was asked to bring as much of my soothing, tranquil artwork as possible to beautify it.  I also sold giclees and originals of my work as a fundraiser for the church.

Speaking of fundraisers, I also created a lovely logo for Unity, which I made into t-shirts to help the church.  I was encouraged to ‘think big’ so I offered these logo t-shirts to Unity throughout the country, so 20 different churches were able to benefit from the fundraiser, each with their own names on the pocket front.  I have made book and CD covers, many t-shirt designs. 12-foot paintings for annual conventions, a tattoo design, and over 20 interior and exterior murals for residential and commercial venues.  At one point I was even doing pastel portraits of houses for realtors to give as gifts to new home buyers.

Unity, a Positive Path

Unity, a Positive Path

In the 90’s, I was lucky to live in a big house in Olomana, with a large studio in the back.  There I was able to fit up to 20 students, and so began teaching “Art With Hart” to children and adults.  Hundreds of students of all ages tell me they benefited from my classes.  I also helped with Art in the Public Schools with after-school programs for children.

By the time I moved off the island in 2014 I had established a name for myself, and there was over a hundred people at my going-away party.   What fun!

 

6).  When did you move to California?  Do you find you have more opportunities as an artist?

I moved to Santa Barbara, California in May of 2014.  One large reason is that my daughter is my marketing manager, and she had moved to LA.  Also, my son and I visited her, and as we drove through SB on a vacation, I realized what an exceptionally ‘artsy’ town SB is.

Yes, I do think I have more opportunities in California, but there are obstacles I did not expect also.  Although SB has a definite love for the arts, it’s support does not necessarily come in the form of high prices for the artists.  Indeed, although we may love living in such a beautiful town, many artists find they need to find galleries out of town to represent them if they want real exposure.  So the good news and the bad news is that entails driving to various cities that are known as more “art centers” in California.  Mostly what I did for the first year living here was to Paint.  At this point I have created 30 new oil paintings, many major works of art.  On the anniversary of my 10 months living in SB was the opening of my solo exhibit in the prestigious Faulkner West gallery, after showing in over 10 juried and group shows.  You might say I “hit the ground running.”

The month after my solo exhibit, I participated in the I Madonarri annual chalk painting festival at the old Mission, with my daughter joining me to help.  Over 150 artists each get very large squares to cover with chalk art, while being sponsored by someone.  I represented Unity of Santa Barbara, creating a pretty design that we may be using as a new SB tshirt fundraiser.  Almost deja vu!

At this point I am happy to also be getting into murals, and created a local scenic design that covered the entire front wall of a home on a busy SB street.  My colors have shifted since moving to the mainland, but the quality of my work stays the same, with everyone who walked by the house loving the fun happy look of the new addition to the neighborhood.  My next public mural was a 9-foot design that can be seen on lower State Street, along with 14 other mural artists.  It hides construction going on, and there it will remain for a year, with each artist biography and contact information available.  This was very good advertising

 

7).   What are your goals as an artist?  What type of subjects do you most enjoy painting?

As with probably most artists, my biggest goal is to simply keep on painting and creating!  I tend to be a ‘purist’ and instead of focusing on the commercial and career aspects of art, I think of my work as my spiritual mission on the planet, almost my ‘ministry’ if you will.  All of my paintings have a spiritual story behind them, often the idea of ‘oneness’ or ‘love’, etc.  As my daughter wrote on my website:  “I paint peace, joy and serenity, one flower at a time”  I love that!

8).  Where are your paintings being shown presently?  What projects are you involved in?

Right now I have work in 2 new galleries in juried group shows.  And of course my murals are very public, with a 3rd coming up on a client’s living room wall of a garden scene (the ultimate xeriscape garden for a drought state!)  My Hawaii paintings will be exhibited when a local spa holds it’s annual celebration with a luau theme.  

Soon I will be finding galleries out of town to showcase my work.  At present my studio is itself a massive gallery with over 80 paintings available to view.

One of Eberhart's murals shown in an invitation to its grand opening.

One of Eberhart’s murals shown in an invitation to its grand opening.

 

9).  Do you have children?  Are they artistic like you?

Yes I have children.  Yes, they are artistic. No, not like me but yet artistic in their own ways.  

My son Casey Cabato just turned 30 years old, and among other things he has created awesome varieties of chain mail all from large rolls of wire purchased at the hardware store.  Some of it looks exactly like the knights of old wore during the renaissance, and literally everyone is amazed at what he taught himself.  Right now his creativity involves plant life, and what he can create with what he grows.  He is good at teaching himself whatever he needs by making use of the internet, and his products are awesome.

My daughter, Kasha Cabato, 27, has a degree in marketing from Parsons New School in New York, and her creativity involves seeing the big picture and helping direct clients to better promote themselves.  And she has taken my art classes and can paint beautifully if she chooses.

Also, my daughter and I work together in our Barbara Eberhart LLC business.  Kasha had the idea to have my pictures printed onto fabric, then sewn into zippered clutches that are the perfect size to hold an iPad.  These became very popular as they sold on my website and also wholesaled to various boutiques in Hawaii, California and Mexico.  There are lots of ideas we have yet to accomplish in commercial areas like this with my images.

Both my offspring are gifted with exceptional writing skills, I am delighted to say.  They also figure prominently in many of my paintings, in part because they are my beloved children, and also because they are both gifted with exceptional good looks.

9).   Where do you see yourself as an artist 5 years from now?

I don’t know.  You’d have to ask my daughter who is marketing me, and sees the Big Picture.  Personally, I see myself STILL PAINTING  

That being said I suppose I actually envision “getting a name for myself” here in California, as was able to do in many ways during my long sojourn in Hawaii.  I do need to find gallery representation in known Art Centers in California and beyond.  I would love to find an agent to represent my work to galleries, as I have worked that way in Hawaii and it was a very win-win situation.  

I am also enjoying getting into creating murals, and I would like to build a reputation for myself as a mural artist here in Santa Barbara.  I am just beginning this aspect of my work, and I think there is lots of potential for consistent mural projects in my town.

I am also interested in teaching similar to what I did with Art With Hart.  Currently I have submitted a course agenda to the local outreach program from SB City College, the Schott Center, and am working with them to arrange classes in their local facility.  This is another great way to become known here, and I have always loved passing on my love and enthusiasm for art.  

 

 

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