Freedom Fighters . Rita Bard . acrylic on canvas

rita bard

by Kathryn M Davis

May 2010, ArtLtd

About a year ago, Rita Bard picked up a picture book about World War II. Looking at it, she was struck by an image of "a young man, about 18, [who] was about to be executed. I was stunned," she recalls. "That war seems so far away now. It's bizarre that such a colossal disaster is already starting to fade. It's a great thing that we are able to forget and to deny, but it's also our Achilles' heel, because it makes us repeat our disasters." The war photographs stayed in her mind's eyes, so she decided "to paint an image just for myself; it wasn't really a conscious agenda." From a year's worth of focused work came War Paintings, a series of small to large canvases in acrylics, broadly brushed and washed over the canvas in lush strokes full of movement and expression. As Cyndi Conn of Launchprojects observes of Bard's paintings: "Her works are at once seductive and horrifying, hysterical and ghastly. Their painterly strokes and expressionistic style are fertile and alluring."
Although she was born long after it was over, Bard felt as if she lived through World War II. Her mother and father met in Germany during WWII; he was an American GI and she was a young student. Born to an affluent family, Rita's mother never recovered from her experiences during the war. The couple married in Germany, despite the fact that they didn't share a language. They moved near an army base in Kentucky, where Bard was raised with her mother's war. The daughter also grew up with her mother's love of art, antiques, poetry, and art books galore. A pivotal moment for Rita occurred when her family was visiting her maternal grandparents. The grandfather was an architect, and the house had survived the war untouched. It was lovely--but most of all, it had stained-glass windows! Rita was mystified by such elegance. To top it off, her adult cousin painted, and she was "stunned by this beautiful 20-year-old" who was the epitome of cool glamour. By then, Bard was already drawing, looking at her mother's pictures of Renaissance and Chinese art. By the age of 17, Bard was studying art in Germany just like her cousin; she remained there for three and a half years. Fifteen years later, while working in New York City, she ran into a German man she'd met during her studies there. They are now married. After Bard graduated from the Maine College of Art, the couple moved to Santa Fe in 2004. Just last year Bard found a space in the Art Barns, where she rents a painting studio with a view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Overall, whether Bard paints pictures that are clearly about World War II or something entirely different, her subject matter is "the oddness of being human." Often, she uses animal imagery to convey our inhumanness: in one canvas, a man hangs from a tree and shoots at a groundhog; in another, a monkey screams, electrodes implanted into its skull. "We’re so arrogant and so primitive," she says. "For me, thinking about truth and/or perception is a tricky business. The rational mind seems to have its limitations in its ability to process all of life's experiences. This is where art, for me, becomes a means by which to explore and express this vague but important territory."
War Paintings,” a solo show of Rita Bard's work, was recently on view at Box Gallery, in Santa Fe, from April 2 - May 1, 2010.