“I love what designers do with books—they get your attention.”
The American still life painter Richard Barker likes books, so much so that for over a decade he has been painting their portraits, literally.
As he told the Poets & Writers Magazine "Books have always been important to me—from the first set of World Book Encyclopedia in my childhood home, through my first jobs in bookstores, to my readings in college and beyond. They always contained promise, optimism, and desire. They empower, ennoble, entertain."
But in this age of Nook and Kindle it is the dog eared, well traveled paper back that attracts Baker’s attention. As he has said "As our personalities are changed (or not) by them, so too do they absorb impressions of our lives. Each book becomes its own unique individual, most especially true of the lowly paperback…They come to stand for various episodes of our lives, for certain idealisms, follies of belief, moments of love. Along the way they accumulate our marks, our stains, our innocent abuses—they come to wear our experience of them on their covers and bindings like wrinkles on our own skin."
Baker elaborates, stating "As physical objects they are powerful fetishes, icons, containers of every conceivable thought and/or emotion. We cart them from home to work on our commutes and they accompany us on vacations. We move them carefully packed in boxes from one domicile to another, from one phase of life to another."
An important element of Baker’s book portraiture is the adventure of finding the appropriate sitter, “fishing the used bookstores in search of the right thing,” he says: “no precious first editions, no rare things—just your common companions.”
With each sitting taking up to three weeks to complete Baker’s relationship with a subject grows along with the memories of past associations. As he says "As my involvement with this act of 'portraiture' has continued, the reasons for choosing which titles and editions have evolved and become more various, though it remains of paramount importance that they be familiar and of no special pedigree. In the end, these paintings stand against loss and for reverie, memory, optimism, desire, and love."
Baker’s latest exhibition The Doctor is Out, depictions of vintage book covers related to psychotherapy, is on show at New York’s Tibor de Nagy Gallery until the 31st of July.