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Brett Baker: Paintings at Elizabeth Harris Gallery

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.

Focusing the Field

Curating Contemporary is an online exhibition project created by painter Brian Edmonds. The site hosts monthly artist-curated virtual exhibitions. I am pleased to have curated the current show, Focused Field, featuring small paintings by seven artists, Sarah McNulty, Kazimira Rachfal, Dan Roach, Henry Samelson, Altoon Sultan, Ken Weathersby, and Brett Baker. The exhibition essay, available at Curated Contemporary, is also posted below. Click on each artist's names in the text for a link to their works in the show.

Ken Weathersby, Time is the DiamondKen 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.