Artist Marky Barto Prefers the Drama of the Old Masters


by Jane Stahl

Fine artist Marky Barto came to the United States from the Czech Republic seven years ago—not expecting to become an artist, however. “I had a good education in the arts; every school offered opportunities in art and music, for example,” she notes. While she loved drawing and was “always making art,” she never thought to become an artist.

Her degree in psychology with a focus on languages took her the Netherlands for 10 years where, immersed in the culture, she learned German and Dutch. And while in Holland, she studied with a renowned artist for six months whose final assignment was to locate a favorite artist and create a piece of work in that artist’s style.

“We were to find a piece of art that spoke to us,” she explains. “And so, I went to all the art books and found the work of a Dutch master, a 17th century still life painter. I loved the play of light and shadow, the triangular composition, the drama, the objects the artist picked to paint. And so, I found my own items and painted my first still life; I’ve never looked back.”

After coming to the U.S. and settling in Berks County, she looked for art classes. There wasn’t much available but she finally saw an ad on Facebook for classes offered by Eric Armusik, an artist whose style reflected the drama she enjoyed in The Old Masters; and, after contacting him, signed up for in-person classes.

Eric’s work for churches and private collections is done in the classical style. His current project is creating scenes and portraits from Dante’s Inferno.

“I’d never painted portraits before. And I’d never painted in oil,” Marky shares. “But I loved Eric’s work; and after the classes ended, I told him that if he ever needed help with his work, I’d love to help him.”

A month later, Eric invited her to become an apprentice with him—painting the first few layers of the large-scale paintings he creates. “And I’m learning from him while I paint,” she offers.

Now, five years later, Marky has completed enough work to stage her first solo show of portraits, still life paintings, charcoal drawings and has accumulated awards and attention for her unusual style.

She won “Best in Show” at Studio B’s “Faces” exhibit in 2023, for example. Visitors to the gallery frequently stopped in front of her painting expressing admiration for the skill, the detail…and the drama…remarking on its unique, captivating Old World qualities—something unusual, not seen today in most exhibits.

“My work is not the art of now,” she admits. “But classical art might be coming back. It’s always beautiful. Not everyone can do it anymore. But there are still people who love it; it still exists; I hope it’s coming back.”

Marky explains that her early childhood in the Czech Republic undoubtedly influenced her preferences. “As a family, we’d spend summers visiting the castles, churches, and cathedrals in my country.”

Noting the difference in the culture of Europe given its history, she adds, “I love both continents; but in Europe, art lives, and you grow and learn from the music, literature, theatre, and food that is everywhere in Europe. It’s a huge influence. The U.S. has different music and is not used to classical music or paintings or the architecture of centuries ago. It’s just a new country.” And yet, she offers, the diversity in artistic style is world-wide.

Future plans for Marky include a portfolio of portraits of women based on the months of the year in the Old Master’s style. She’ll hire models among friends, family members, or people who embody the vision or story she fabricates. She’ll choose a blonde for a summer painting; a redhead for fall. And she’ll include special objects to feature in the paintings. She envisions a woman standing at a window holding a basket of apples, for example.

Another plan is to create paintings of scenes from a book of short stories written by a Czech writer centuries ago to showcase the culture of the Czech Republic.

Listening to Marky, in the accent of her Czech background, holds a charm in itself and provokes images of the countryside in which she grew up that obviously continues to influence her work and her passion. Through her eyes and her talent, I am able to visit another time, another culture and be inspired.

The conversation with Marky from which this article was created can be found on the "B Inspired" podcast, available on your favorite podcast platform including Spotify, Google, Castbox, Breaker, Overcast, Pocket Casts, and RadioPublic, and Apple.

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