Tag Archives: Dreams

6B by Deborah Baker

DSB-cryptic
Cryptic, 35″ x 40″, 6b pencil on  paper

Chicago artist Deborah Baker, whose large pencil drawings are on view now at Firecat Projects until December 16, 2017, once again demonstrates that the artist’s most creative tool rests between her ears.  Baker rejects all currently fashionable media such as video, performance and photography. Even within the constraints of conventional drawing, she avoids decorative or descriptive color and perspectival reality. Through this systematic refusal, she achieves complete freedom within a form of expression that is strongly graphic and psychologically resonant.

Baker can be understood to be a sort of free-associational sign painter, a dealer in archetypes collected and added to the page, where they  set up visual harmonics within the composition. The large drawings in 6B are based upon her previous small, black and white embroidered pieces, several of which are in the show. She chose to make her drawings on large sheets of brown kraft paper in order to create larger scale works for 6B.

Baker describes her process:
I always start with a word or title.  That word evokes images for me …I also always begin with the border or frame first…I do few or no preparatory drawings… sometimes a small thumbnail sketch to get the layout, no marking…though I do fold the fabric to orient the space.

DSK-tied
Tied, 17″ x 17″, embroidered linen

Her previous work with embroidery affects Baker’s compositional choices in the more recent large drawings.  There is a kind of steady rhythm to the fabric pieces. Each constituent image is spaced out over the surface of the artwork, creating the impression that the composition must be “read” rather than seen. The patterned border surrounding each embroidery resembles decorative craftwork from the Victorian age, though the images within are more reminiscent of ethnic or folk images, or designs from tattoo art.

In the large drawings, the decorative designs that Baker uses to define the outer limits of her small embroidered compositions begin to resemble theatre prosceniums, and the compositions become performances. This is especially evident in the drawings Connect and 12 Dancing Princesses (which even includes a suggestion of an audience in the lower portion of the drawing.) She takes a metaphorical step back in Center, which once again recalls Victorian embroidery.

DSB-12-Dancing-Princesses
12 Dancing Princesses, 35″ x 40″ 6B pencil on paper

A recurring theme in Baker’s work is the mystery of the long-term loving relationship.  It can be no accident that the couples seen in the embroidered Link and Tied, and in the drawing Union are skeletal. “Until death do us part” is not just a metaphor here. In Cryptic, the image of the silhouetted couple facing each other refers both to a famous optical illusion and to the opaque black box of long term commitment as visualized in an all-seeing pyramid. In Hope vs. Hope, love and conflict co-exist.

It’s been said that editing is the only art, and Deborah Baker’s deceptively simple drawings prove it. These large pictures of dancers, hearts and grinning skeletons appear at first blush to be simple, naïve and almost childlike, but upon closer examination are nothing of the kind. The artist has created a complex visual language that allows her complete freedom of expression within the limited means she employs.

For information about Firecat Projects and 6B go here

DSB-Union
Union, 35″ x 35″, 6B pencil on paper

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Susan Aaron Taylor at NCRC Galleries

Aaron-taylor-guide
Guide,  cholla cactus, shells, handmade felt, petrified wood, animal skull, agate and banded iron. 12″ x 29″ x 14″

Attractive and repellant, humorous, tragic and tortured,  the otherworldly figures created by visionary artist Susan Aaron-Taylor live on the shadowy boundaries between what we know and what we imagine. In her solo exhibition Strata, now on view in the Connections Gallery of the University of Michigan’s North Campus Research Center, the artist pulls 14 individual figures from her unconscious mind and presents them to us, hoping to awaken the sense of a shared, but often unseen, emotional and spiritual reality.

Aaron-taylor-Unplugged
Unplugged, handmade felt, shells, electrical plug, 17″ x 18″ x 10″

Made of felt and found objects, the sculptures in this exhibition blend alchemy, dreams, rituals, mythology, and shamanism with the detritus of matter to create a persuasive but disquieting world suggestive of malevolent fairy tales or ambiguous dreams.  Aaron-Taylor claims to appropriate the power of what she calls the “shadow side”, a term of Jungian psychology referring to a “composite of personal characteristics and potentialities that have been repressed and underdeveloped in our conscious lives.” Her creatures are fetishistic archetypes, stand-ins for the unconscious, and spirit guides to unexplored psychological regions. In their combination of fabric wrapping over found natural armatures and amulet-like appliques, they strongly resemble  the mummified animals of ancient Egyptian tombs.

The figures often seem to be in pain.  In Polar Bear, the armless animal snarls as it tries usuccessfully to free its head from the rungs of a ladder. Winter Rat‘s paws are extended upward, as if to escape the implied danger of the surrounding pool. The eyes of the creatures are often hazed, and bones, claws and teeth protrude.

Aaron-taylor-Polar-Bear
Polar Bear, wood, handmade felt, geodes, porcupine quills, cabochon and beads, 19″ x 17″ x 13″

Aaron-Taylor describes her art practice: “My intense exploration of mediums and techniques over the year’s gives me the freedom to incorporate a wide range of materials.  Found wood, fleece, minerals, cactus, porcupine quills, beads, shells, bones, and kozo fiber have all been appropriated.  Blending the accumulated strata creates autobiographical narratives where rhythm, balance, and harmony invite the viewer’s participation.  My intention is to connect the spiritual and the physical worlds.”

One might wonder at the selection of this artist’s work for  a venue that is devoted to science and the pursuit of the quantifiable, but bringing provocative and thoughtful art to the NCRC’s campus is part of the gallery’s mission as described by NCRC Art Coordinator Grace Serra.  “What  I want to happen here is … not just a nice  enhancement of quality of life [or to] offer an environment that is stimulating,” she says “…but maybe some of these shows can be the catalyst for thinking differently about the problems [researchers and scientists] are solving in their labs.”  She envisions additional events relevant to the NCRC exhibition schedule and says, “I’d like a little more programming around the exhibits, so maybe we can get people thinking about what’s going on here and how it can relate [to their research].” She points out that linking the arts with the sciences is very much part of the University of Michigan’s mission. She adds, “It can help people to become global thinkers.”

Strata, located in Connections Gallery on the lower level of Building 18 of the North Campus Research Center, 2800 Plymouth Road, Ann Arbor,  will be open to visitors until December 12, 2017.  The gallery is open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more information about the NCRC Art Program go here