Underlying Colors is a striking selection of drawings by one of Latitude Artist Community's most tenured artists, Beverly Baker, who has been supported to maintain a creative practice in their studio since its founding in 2001.
Baker’s primarily black works on paper aren’t explicitly conceptual in a typical sense, but are also not simply formal. They’re sublime objects that possess an idiosyncratic history; what remains visually, surfaces richly saturated in various sheens of ballpoint pen, are the conclusion of those events. This history isn't necessarily important for how it informs the ultimate result, but rather as a record of her persistent ritual. Institute 193 describes her quiet and deliberate process:
Every Baker drawing begins with the repetitive rendering of a limited set of letters and numbers. B, her first initial, is by far the most common. Other letters and numbers may appear at this early stage, and she will occasionally use a complete word inspired by the carefully chosen magazines she keeps on her desk. In time, Baker begins to apply intense, curved pen strokes to cover the surface of the paper. Her lines sweep across the page, arc upward and veer to the right of the sheet. As she works to fill the surface, her marks gradually obliterate the foundational letters and words that lay beneath.
Baker, much like Grace Coenraad, exemplifies an approach to art-making that’s typically not found outside progressive art studios - a practice that challenges foundational ideas about the nature of art and how it’s experienced. Understanding this work begins with dismissing the purpose of its creation, which is unknown, and instead understanding that they’re not just projects, conceived to engage with an esoteric cultural dialogue, but the extension of a life-long endeavor.
In the course of our work, we’ve known artists who will "air paint" if not provided a surface, or whose drawings extend beyond the paper onto the table, without regard for any distinction - creative practices focused entirely on process, not as a performance, but as an act of value. This paradigm may be important in considering the relationship of Baker’s opaque surfaces to the initial, formal exercise in written language she first applies. It is, however, equally important to recognize that despite this unique origin, these works in effect share similarities with those that have a highly academic origin.
Brooklyn-based artist Vincent Como, who has also centered his practice around the investigation of black abstraction for the past twenty years, describes his affinity for this material and subject matter:
This thing-in-itself, this monochrome, acts as an object rather than an illusion, even if it presents an illusory space due to its depth of surface. That’s an issue with the organ or tool perceiving the object though, not the object itself. This object is a mark, in toto, a statement of information or intention made by human hands to convey an idea. This idea doesn’t necessarily fit within the context of our existing language-structure and so it becomes its own language. The language of painting, the language of abstraction, the language of the monochrome.
From the transition of image to act, to the consideration of marks and language, Como relates an experience with black monochrome that reveals a remarkable and undeniable conceptual kinship with Baker beyond the obvious visual one.
Baker’s drawings are modest, yet commanding - striated, enigmatic landscapes formed from a dynamic accumulation of textural marks. Despite their serial nature and outward sameness, each work is a distinctive, highly personal manifestation of her steadfast vision.
The first solo exhibition of Baker’s work in Lexington since 2003, Underlying Colors is on view at Institute 193 through July 1st and will then travel to LAND in Brooklyn.
Beverly Baker (b. 1961, Versailles, Kentucky) has exhibited previously at Christian Berst, SITE 131 in Dallas, DOX Center for Contemporary Art, Carreau du Temple, Le Garage, Carrousel du Louvre, and the Outsider Art Fair. Her work is included in the ABCD and Hannah Rieger collections.