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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Recipe for Artistic Growth

Jun 30, 2015 06:21PM ● By Dale Bruder

Treasure, by B. Brandel

An artist goes through phases. They change mediums, master techniques, discover new uses for old materials and explore styles, ever pursuing the muse. “Each phase informs the work that is to come,” notes artist Barbara Brandel. An accomplished and feted fiber artist for decades, she explored folk art through tapestry garments and wall pieces before returning to drawing and painting. Soon after, she began embellishing paper and canvas with collage.

“After studying figure drawing in the university, one semester of textile art led to 30 years creating with a loom. I have a deep appreciation for the cultures and people of the world who used and still use their handcrafted objects and textiles,” says Brandel. “I’m honoring art forms from cultures past and present.”

Collage is an art production technique primarily used in the visual arts, in which the artwork is made from an assemblage of different forms, creating a new whole. An ancient technique dating back to 200 BCE in China, collage emerged as an art form after 1900, in the early stages of modern art. Cubist painters Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso cut out pieces of paper and attached them to drawings and paintings. Henri Matisse, an acknowledged influence for Brandel, used cutouts of brightly painted paper at the height of his creative arc.

The active ingredient in the artist recipe is taking creative risks. “Never having seen any other collage work with postage stamps, my collages started out with the ‘World Travelers’ series, with fanciful costumes and figures,” explains Brandel. “Often my imaginary people are displaying past experiences, ancestry, desires or perhaps regrets on their garments or as part of their skin, as they travel through their lives. They are portraits of everyone and no one. Bodies, hands, heads and familiar objects are my subjects.”

Creating art and beauty with paint, paper, recycled postage stamps and mixed media is a phase Brandel is in now. Her collages are arrangements mixing cutouts of maps, geographic and planetary images, juxtaposed with anamorphic outlines—the interior filled with postage stamps. Her eye for color, dimension and shape creates a new, impactful whole. “Postage stamps look like tattoos, connecting the citizens of the world in one image,” she says.

“I delight in juxtaposing the imagery and meanings of the stamps and the maps, often finding humor in my paintings. I explore my world closely by depicting objects in my life and studio, sometimes paired or apposed with the landscape just outside,” Brandel describes. “Other paintings are homages to anonymous artisans and their handmade works from throughout the world, or fragments of treasures from other cultures and times.”

An artist explores creative ideas in thematic variations. “I like working in a series, and have several ongoing in both collage and painting,” says Brandel. Painting series include “Antiquities”, “Patterns & Fragments” and “Inside/Outside”. In 2004, Brandel began using the collage technique beginning with the “World Travelers” series, depicting cowgirls and clowns, jugglers and celebrities.

To remain fresh, an artist must be curious about the surrounding world. Radical realizations can spark new awareness that opens up a creative watershed. Reading J. Morris Hicks’ book Healthy Eating, Healthy World jolted Brandel into a heightened awareness of the fragility of our planet under the weight of technology, industrialism and modern agriculture. “As we waltz and rage across the surface of the planet, we forget about the limited resources and the generosity of the Earth that sustains us,” Brandel explains.

She recalls the fundamental shift that gives her art an aura of provoking thought. “I started the ‘Caretaker’ series in 2008 without knowing it,” she says. It was when working on the “World Travelers” series that “Caretaker 1” appeared. “A friend said the figure reminded her of Nut, the Egyptian goddess whose elongated body protectively stretches over civilization. This idea resonated, focusing my intention.”

In the 12-piece series, each of the Caretakers gesture in cradling, contemplating or protecting the earth in some way. “As my images evolve, the artworks speak more about our similarities than our differences,” says Brandel. “As individuals, we disappear from life, but what we care for remains.”

The series led to a catalog book and a showing at Rancho Linda Vista. The artwork will appear publicly again in April at the Jewish Community Center. She is currently showing other art work at Tohono Chul Park Gallery.

The final ingredient of a recipe for artistic growth is that an artist must be prolific. Brandel has been a full-time studio artist in Tucson since the late 1970s. Her reputation grew in her fiber artist period, when her work was widely shown and collected. Awards include the Mutterer Award at the Tucson Museum of Art’s Arizona Biennial in 1993 (1st place) and 1997 (2nd place), and a Tucson/Pima Arts Council Fellowship in 1995. Her tapestry work has been featured in prestigious art publications and books and has been acquired by art museums.

In 2000, she began working in three different mediums in series: mixed media paintings on paper or canvas, which often depicted textiles, plant forms and handmade objects; 2D and 3D mixed media assemblages with recycled buttons, used in abundance; and collaged paintings using recycled world postage stamps and maps, depicting figures, costumes, hands and objects. Select artwork is available in Giclee prints and note cards.

Throughout Brandel’s creative arc she has followed the recipe of artistic creative growth; going through phases, that only in perspective are identified as periods; taking creative risks; exploring thematic variations through topical series; maintaining a stimulating mind; and being prolific. Brandel is one to pay attention to, as she knows the recipe, choosing the artistic ingredients.

For more information about Brandel and her art works, visit

Dale Bruder is a regular contributor to Natural Awakenings. Connect at [email protected].