Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Deborah Baker speaks!

Ariel View of the woodland garden
The block with planting 

On the 22nd of October when Deborah Baker came to talk about her work & the progression towards her current practice alongside images of the garden which has inspired the series 'In Paradiso' which is currently on display at L A Noble Gallery.

Hearing the artist describe their experiences is always eye opening for me as I have a less formal relationship & discuss their work in the present tense with them most of the time & look forward rather than back. What was extraordinary was the way in which coupled with her words we could see the way in which her work has altered over a long period from black & white, to figurative to a more fractured aesthetic. Just like her woodland garden her work has been 'cultivated' over many years. She approaches each plant individually looking at texture & form then harmonises it with another - balancing the colour & light through many layers.

Light is the key to her work, using images taken at the same time day & same the time of year so that the tones & colours compliment each other appearing more natural as each image is layered & edited. Editing is the key to her work, with many images paired back afterwards to give the composition the perfect balance of positive & negative space. 

Prunusky - seeing the layers develop, the complexity becomes apparent
©Deborah Baker 

When I first saw Deborah's work this is what struck me. When learning to draw or paint the use of negative space is essential to show the importance relationships between objects to be as important as the objects when composing a still life for example. Working with shapes & forms coupled with light & shade so much can alter as a work progresses. Without these considerations an image can lack depth or visual interest. Cutting away is often as key to an image as adding something to it. Baker understands this. Her intricate photographs are more akin to lacework than collage, the gaps revealing the forms rather than the other way around. 

©Deborah Baker

Looking back at Baker's work prior to In Paradiso you can see how her use of figurative elements within space transition throughout her work towards her current practice. In the series  Ghosts Baker combines her own photography with snapshots of past & present generations of her family. In the example above she coloured the figures from a black & white photograph & added architecture & context. By paying careful attention to detail - colour, form, tonal range - without overtly making the image completely convincing as a straight photograph she creates an ethereal aesthetic. In doing so Baker literally breathes life into past generations, allowing them to interact with present ones. Plants, trees & architecture alongside these relatives provide the perfect metaphor for the cycle of growth,  renewal, decay & death. So began the connection with plants & the metamorphosis of them within her photography...
©Deborah Baker

The immediate landscape around Deborah provided great comfort & solace when her late brother was diagnosed with cancer in 2007. The two come together here in her photographs as the figures become more ghost-like as layered foliage entwines with the past, present & future. Baker's own family history narrates whilst seeping into the collective unconscious of her viewers own family memories...

In printmaking after running a plate through a press it is usual to print a 'ghost' by repeating to press the plate a second or third time. The ghost is a much fainter version of the image on the plate, this is also used to layer one print on top of another. Baker's 'ghost' may be more literal, but they also have a  connection to the physical reference of the original object - in her case a photograph - as well as ethereal notions of the afterlife.

Her garden was the perfect space to grieve & contemplate. Our need for a record of loved ones helps us to remember them & leave an imprint in the physical world as well as our inner thoughts. Baker's images do this. As In Paradiso developed as the garden grew she recorded the growth of her plants, shrubs & trees just as one would with children. As they grew they changed & in recording this transition the material available to 'layer' her imagery is limitless as seasons come & go & the maturity of the garden alters continuously.  


 Japanese Kanji for Ma (interval or space)

Negative space in Japanese culture is known as 'ma' the pause in between other structures is seen as being just as important. The hollow in a tree can be a space of spiritual contemplation, & as I have mentioned before in the book In Praise of Shadows the weight of such spaces can also accentuate the light & solid forms that surround us. The Kanji itself illustrates the aesthetic harmony of space beautifully. 

When planting a garden negative space is an optimum consideration as the seasons come & go some plants die back & others flourish or remain in altered forms. Pre-supposing where these spaces will be & what can fill or be revealed through these spaces can dramatically change ones experience & enjoyment of the garden. Baker constructs er images just as she does her own land, with care & forethought. 

Raouliexigu ©Deborah Baker

When I saw Raouliexigu for the first time my instant reaction was of a place I knew in my minds eye, a painting by Seurat called Study for A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. This pointillist masterpiece relies on the spaces in between the figures to accentuate the rigidity & placement of them. Each figure could as well be a tree & the grass the light that passes in between. Strangely, the fractured detail creates a more solid & almost heavy feel to the work as if the people within it are rooted to the spot never to move again, as if finding the perfect place in which they should always be. 

Study for A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, 1884
Georges Seurat (French, 1859–1891) Oil on canvas

Just so you can see the red border is part of the painting...

The painting bound in its frame alters the way in which we view it - despite the red edges of the image which heightens the intensity of the reds (warm tones) in the work against the green & purple (cool tones). Branches, leaves, shadows & flowers all perform the same spell upon the eye in a more subliminal way in Deborah Baker's work. By leaving the photographs 'frameless' (they are mounted on aluminium, with perspex face mounting) the eye s allowed to extend beyond the edge of the image thus integrating it into the environment on a more organic level. I am really enjoying watching audiences come into the gallery & instantly relaxing when they look at the work. Shoulders drop, expressions soften, the magic takes hold. You must see them for yourself to see if you agree with me.

In Paradiso by Deborah Baker is on at L A Noble Gallery till 6pm Saturday November 16 - don't miss it. More work will be displayed next Autumn Sept - November at The William Morris Gallery (Museum of the Year 2013) . It is a long time to wait. I am sure there will be new images by then to compare with the ones currently on display, so don't miss it!