Julia Schwartz interviews painter and Painters' Table editor Brett Baker. Thanks to Julia for the opportunity to discuss my work, including the development of my recent miniature paintings.
"Moving from a large studio in the Catskills to a two-room apartment in Manhattan forced me, finally, to consider the role scale played in the work. I had to ask whether could I make serious paintings that were small, and to answer that question I had to try and make some small works and see if they 'measured up' to the large ones. I stretched ten small paintings, the limit that would fit on the apartment wall, and resolved to work on them until the question of scale was answered in the work. I worked on those paintings for four years. Interestingly, my existing visual language continued to evolve and thrive on the smaller surfaces. The size of the marks changed very little, but where they had more or less floated on a large surface they began to interlock, to push and pull against each other and the support. A visual compression emerged that hadn’t been there before, and the paintings began to realize the solidity I originally sought."
Sharon Butler blogs about exhibitions by Mario Naves and Brett Baker at Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York, on view through February 2, 2013.
Butler writes that Naves' "buoyant compositional strategies recall those of his earlier collages, but the smoothly painted, unified surfaces and saturated color of his new work evoke the Indian and Persian miniatures and the 16th-century Netherlandish paintings that [he] considers touchstones." She continues noting that "Baker's paintings are darker and more obsessive than Naves, and they suggest that he is entertaining a philosophical question, trying to convince himself that, despite all practical evidence to the contrary, meaning resides in the process. And so he continues--we all do."
Brett Baker, Scarbo, 2009 -2011, oil on canvas, 5 x 4 inches
I want to thank all Painters’ Table readers for making this blog a success over the past two years and also to cordially invite everyone to the opening reception for an exhibition of my paintings at Elizabeth Harris Gallery in New York on Friday, January 4, 2013 from 6 - 8 pm. The exhibition will run through February 2, 2013. A catalogue with an essay by Jennifer Samet will be available from the gallery.
Ken Weathersby, Time Is the Diamond, 2011, wood, linen, acrylic, paper collage, small works on wood shelves, from 2.5 to 8 inches tall (courtesy of the artist)
Expanding the visual field is one of the essential innovations of the New York School. This innovation redefined scale in painting so decisively that subsequent movements including Color Field, Pop, Minimalism, and even installation art all adopted it without question. Yet, while nearly every other aspect of abstract painting has been exhaustively investigated and re-imagined, examples of focusing the field to a small scale have been isolated and few. Miniature abstract paintings are almost non-existent.
My first encounters with Abstract Expressionism’s signature expansiveness, in works by de Kooning and Rothko, made me want to be an abstract painter and convinced me that scale was a crucial component of the language of abstract painting. For a over a decade, I painted almost exclusively on a large scale, until circumstances forced me to radically scale down my work.
I moved from a large studio upstate to a small Manhattan apartment that functioned as both a studio and a home for my family. The change was fortuitous, though, for it opened my eyes to new painting problems. Instead of rehashing the problem of creating an intimate experience from immense scale, I concerned myself with preserving that immensity on an intimate scale. At first, a two foot square painting felt like a postage stamp to me, an impossibly small area. Ten years later, many of my works measure only 4 x 5 inches.
Recently, it’s been a pleasure to discover other painters - Sarah McNulty, Kazimira Rachfal, Dan Roach, Henry Samelson, Altoon Sultan, and Ken Weathersby - equally invested in small, even miniature scale abstraction. Though sharing a similar format, each artist challenges and extends the language of abstract painting in a different way. These painters use scale not as a commentary, but rather to push the boundaries of gestural abstraction, site-specific painting, materials, and process while forging fresh connections with painting’s past.
Interview with Painters' Table editor Brett Baker about his work and studio practice.
"Studio spaces have definitely impacted my work. In 2003 I moved from a huge, dream studio in upstate New York to a tiny New York apartment... I still wanted to make large paintings and thought I could, perhaps, make 'big' small paintings. At the time small paintings for me meant sketches or studies. I stretched ten small canvases and resolved to work on them until they lived up to the larger works."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.