Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Maintaining the Faith

“There’s no real reason why what was done in abstract art
can’t continue to be done just as well with images,
instead of triangles and squares.”
Jo Baer

During the 1960’s and the first half of the 1970’s American artist Jo Baer was the queen of the minimalist art movement sharing the lime light with such notables of the movement as Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, and Dan Flavin. She shared several exhibitions with them whilst having solo exhibitions in her own right along with a mid-career retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art.  

About her art at this time she wrote "Non-objective painting's language is rooted, nowadays, in edges and boundaries, contours and gradients, brightness, darkness and color reflections. Its syntax is motion and change."

Then in 1975 Baer left New York for Ireland and abandoned minimalism in favor of what she was later to call “radical figuration.” She had become dissatisfied with the direction minimalism was heading in, as she told Bomb Magazine’s Linda Boersma “I moved from New York in order to change the work. I showed you a painting I started in New York and could only finish in Ireland. The pressure of a place like New York is very strong. I wasn’t terribly fond of the direction I saw painting going in when I lived there. It was going into its dumb mode, where the dumber your work was, the better. I was not about to go into cartoons.”

At university Baer had studied biology and psychology, but as she has said “I discovered that my personality and talents were not really those of a scientist. On my way home from an interview at Yale for my Ph.D., I saw a little Matisse drawing in a window; I burst into tears and I never went back to school. It became a question of what to do, and finding the courage to become an artist.”

After flirting with abstract expressionism in California in the late 1950’s, Baer moved to New York and adopted the spare, hard-edge non-objective painting of minimalism for 15 years before moving to Ireland. She subsequently moved to London and then to Amsterdam where she currently resides.
In 1983 Baer’s manifesto "I am no longer an abstract artist" was published in Art in America and her continuing work has been the rendering of figurative and symbolic imagery in fragmented ways that negates the narrative in a search for new meanings.

As she says “I’m using the same kind of information in these figurative paintings that I used in my minimal work, which was about light and edges. I’m still concerned with light, and sensitive to edges of line, forms and canvases, but I’ve broadened the vocabulary considerably.”

Baer’s current exhibition Towards the Land of the Giants is on show at London’s Camden Arts Centre until 21st of June.

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