#desertdreams #retrofuturism #colorfulpainting #figurativelandscape @ciarabarsotti
American artist Ciara Barsotti was born in Dublin, Ireland, was raised in California, and currently lives in Virginia with her husband and two cats. Her current series, Space Cowgirls, began in a painting class at a community college in 2016 and has expanded to twenty-plus paintings, in which she combines tracing paper, pen, pencil, and paint to capture the multidimensionality of her subjects and breadth of the American Desert. Her work has been featured in Southwest Art Magazine and her first painting in the series, “The Domes,” was a finalist in the Bay Area 2017 Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series.
How has social media come into play with your artwork?
Social media is the vehicle I use to share my work with the world, and it’s where I’ve discovered nearly every opportunity I’ve had. If I had to go around to galleries with a portfolio to try to get them to sell my work I think I’d have given up a long time ago. Social media puts the power back in the hands of the artists, and while that comes with its own set of challenges, I like being the one in charge of my business. I’ve always been entrepreneurial, it’s just a matter of harnessing that energy and bringing it together with my work, which is tough for a lot of artists, myself included, because our work is such a part of us and can be so personal. It’s hard to sell parts of yourself, but there are ways to take the emotion out of it.
What concept or narrative is behind your work?
I have a few running narratives going in my mind depending on the painting. In the ones that feature architectural elements (domes and spires) I let my inner conspiracy theorist run wild. I like the theory that some kind of alien species got to Earth first and left behind these structures in the epoch between ancient humans and modern ones.
The Cowgirls started out with a concept of humanity returning to Earth, or time-travelling back to when Earth was still lush and alive and worth visiting. In each of the Cowgirl paintings I explore more aspects about our relationship to the land we occupy. The Cowgirls have been observers or tourists up till now, but I’m starting to play with the idea of their being guardians of Earth.
How true are you to your artist statement?
This is an interesting question! My love affair with the desert is still very much a part of me, but I’m starting to expand my landscapes into the mountains. The mountains and the desert are equally inhospitable to humans, so maybe that’s why I’m drawn to them. There’s still a wildness in those places, no matter what we try to do to tame it.
What is your ultimate goal for your artwork?
My ultimate goal is to have the freedom to explore in my work. Ultimately I don’t want to be limited by subject matter or by what I think people want, but I also don’t want to be limited by a day job and I understand how important consistency is in building a collector base, so it’s a balancing act. I’m following this Space Cowgirl thread till it runs out, then after that, who knows!
What inspires you?
Music and nature and stories. I love reading sci-fi and collecting vintage sci-fi books (those covers are amazing). I’ve got a few albums on a “Painting” playlist that I rotate through - music keeps me moving through tedium. Currently on that list is “Double Negative” by Low, the “Blade Runner 2049” soundtrack, the “Dead Man” soundtrack, “Holy Mountain” by Makeup and Vanity Set, and the “Mandy” soundtrack. I like to try to get outside for a day hike at least once a month and that always centers me. And of course, the desert is always inspiring.
Explain your process.
I take lots of photos when I travel (usually of clouds) and I steal images as I scroll through Instagram to use as references for future paintings. I get my source material from these photos and images, and from there I’ll piece together a composition, usually around a geological landmark. Sometimes the painting wants alien architecture, sometimes it wants a Cowgirl. Sometimes the landmark is weird enough and I don’t add much to it other than what I see in the photographs.
Which was your breakthrough piece? Tell us more about it.
That would be “The Domes,” which I started back in 2016 and finished in 2017. It was the first painting I’d done in a size over 22x28 (“The Domes” is 30x40) and it was like breaking open a dam. I had always thought I hated acrylics (I was a watercolorist for a long time) but then I took a class at my local community college and was introduced to Golden Acrylics and those paints blew my mind! I had this vision of this landscape with Bison and domes while I was meditating one day, and I decided to paint it for my final project. The whole process was pure joy. It was what kicked off the Space Cowgirls series, and it made it into the regional semi-finals in the 2017 Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series. Today it lives in a collector’s home in Oakland, CA.
How or where do you seek out opportunities?
Instagram is a great place to find new connections and opportunities, and so is keeping in touch with other artists. I talk to a few friends of mine on a regular basis, to vent and to share ideas. That’s how I discovered Cafe, which is an amazing way to find shows to submit your work to and is where I landed three out of four of my current shows.
How many times a year do you submit work to a call?
I try to submit somewhere at least once a month, whether it’s a blog or magazine or a show.
How do you price your work?
I use a formula. Do a bit of research on different formulas, pick one and stick to it. Make sure you’re covering your time, materials, sales tax, shipping, and a potential gallery percentage (that you get to keep if you sell it yourself!) It takes the guesswork and emotions out of pricing.