The Laws of Chance


Turquoise, acrylic on canvas, 24" x 30"


Paintings by Barbara Trachtenberg

I am an abstract painter who often works with found materials and collage, painting a canvas first, then adding detritus—found and old objects, broken things. At times a figure emerges and then a second one—a dialogue ensues. I listen, sniff and watch their faces. Working sometimes tempestuously, I’m compelled to move, breathe and push my body around my studio space to break through an excitement and anxiety that puts me onto the canvas or board. I want my work to be entered by the viewer.

Artists who inspire me use bold strokes and texture on canvas—hardened acrylic, found objects, gels, grout, crumpled paper, scraps of wood, an old torn apron, spray paint, cardboard. I collect new or kept pieces liked flattened aluminum and car parts I have found while biking or walking and put them in an empty backpack to combine later. I save the pieces for years or days and seek them out to re-view them, absorbing them into my visual memory along with others, until I imagine the start of a composition. However, that imagining can elude me as the process takes over. I desire the surprise. I question what those first strokes face me with. I can appear nervous and disorganized, placing and replacing my tools and materials until they feel right. At other times, I am methodical, though still without a conscious plan. Soon I settle into the work and my breathing changes as I explore, turning the painting this way and that and in the end, may wire a final abstract piece in more than one direction.

I am drawn to paintings I want to touch. Without a plan, I don’t intend to present a figure, but at times one emerges. I love the quick moment before I attack a blank canvas, confronting my own fear while knowing I can rip off and repaint. I need the visceral, and paint thick, dripped, smeared and smudged. I pace in the music and space around me which keep me breathing into the work. My painting is emotional, aggravated, surprised. I often mutter alternately, “I don’t know what I’m doing,” or “Oh wow!” Working this way acknowledges there is no answer to anything, really: life is suffering and joy, confusion and clarity—full of contradictions.

I am also a narrative street photographer, where figures are clearly the subjects of my work. My background and training as a teacher and school psychologist in urban schools impact my work.

My painting is influenced by Robert Rauschenberg, Jean Dubuffet, Hans Hofmann, Gabriele Münter, John J. Murray, the Fauves and color.