Ojai Barbie: Artist Takes On American Classic

Porch Gallery is currently hosting for its its latest exhibit of the work of artist Judy Ragagli. The show is on until March 25.

Ragagli has taken on the task of painting portraits of that American icon to beauty, the Barbie doll. But not just any Barbie, no smiling Malibu Barbie here.  Her collection features classic Barbie from the ‘60s and ‘70s.

To be clear, these are realistic Barbie portraits – now, there’s an oxymoron.  But these oil paintings are amazingly life-like in that you first think that they are photographs.  According to her bio, Ragagli employs a process of mixing only 7 original color tubes of oil to accurately achieve the tonal properties of Barbie’s plastic flesh.

A friend and I stopped by the gallery earlier in the afternoon and I thought I was beholding images from the LACMA exhibit on Barbie, that was part of Pacific Standard Time a couple of years ago.  After we left my friend asked, “Are those photographs?”  I suddenly realized that I wasn’t sure and made a point to return and find out.

At the Porch Gallery reception on Feb. 15, Ragagli and I sat at the baby grand and discussed her work.

DC:  Let’s start with the one piece I find especially intriguing, “Debutante Ball.” Can you tell me about how you came to painting that piece?

JR:  That is the platinum swirl they made in 1962.  The reason I wanted to do that one is because of the hair, the swirl.  They made four different ones that year, the white, titian and brunette, but the platinum swirl was always my favorite.  It’s the simplicity of it that I like so much.  That year they started putting on eyeliner and the pink lips.  It’s one of my favorites.

DC:  When did you make her?

JR:  That one was done in 2007.

DC:  And when did you start painting?

JR:  I started around 1996 or so.  I started with just one Barbie.  I began taking painting classes.  My art teacher said, ‘What do you want to paint?”  And I said, “I don’t know.”  This was my first real art teacher …”

DC:  Paul Bedard.

JR:  Yes, Paul Bedard.  He said, “Paint something you like.”  So, I wandered around for awhile and one day it came to me, “I wanna paint a Barbie, realistically on canvas.”  Simple, elegant, you know, just her.  Like the Mona Lisa.  Simply there, just her.  I started painting her.  I had to learn how to mix certain colors, it was so friggin’ hard!  Paul taught me how to mix and apply – I always made mistakes.  It took years and years to perfect that type of painting.

DC:  Where are you from?

JR:  We’re originally from Chicago, and when I was young my family moved to Orange County.  I went to Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles and majored in sociology.  I started painting in 1995, 96.  Now I live in West LA.

DC:  Tell me, which of the paintings was the most challenging for you?

Suddenly a tinge of regret came over her face.

JR:  She isn’t here.  She’s at home.  She took me 6 months to render.  It’s a portrait of a 6’ Barbie in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater; Barbie in Hollywood.  She’s too big, so she’s at home.  I rarely take her out.   It took a long time, I had to put layer upon layer of paint to get it just right.  Even though she’s a pop icon and the piece is so powerful, it’s the simplicity that I was going for.  Just who she was and who she can imply.

DC:  One last question:  What do you think of Ojai?

JR:  Oh, it’s so nice.  People here are so friendly.  You really feel a sense of peace.

At that point gallery owner Valda Lake entered the room.

VL:  What are you guys talking about?

JR:  Oh, we’re just talking about Barbie.

The exhibit features 5 amazing original oils and limited edition giclees.

Barbie: An American Icon is a collaboration between Porch Gallery Ojai and WallspaceLA and is on display through March 25.

Porch Gallery is located at 310 East Matilija St.  For more information visit porchgalleryojai.com.

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