My wife and I braved some foul weather in downtown Seattle last week to take a quick walk through the Seattle Art Museum’s (SAM) new Olympic Sculpture Park. Many of the usual line-up were there: Calder, Oldenburg, Smith, and Serra. Calder providing the evocative color punch that the gloomy skies and grey city skyline so dramatically demands. This same color coated all of the chairs that rested along the descending paths of the park and I was thrilled to see that the chairs were free of any constraints— they could be moved about at will to accommodate any sort of gathering. No ungodly park benches designed to discourage transients from sleeping (McMakin’s Bench may be an exception; the jury is still out). No utter lack of seating to encourage consumers to spend money rather than sit and chat.

I can only assume that Oldenburg’s presence was requested because you can’t have an expensive sculpture park without an Oldenburg. The object Claes chose to enlarge was a most obscure and nearly forgotten curiosity from my childhood: the typewriter eraser. I recognized it immediately and it tickled me to think of such an antiquated bit of practicality being memorialized in a city known for its close connection with a certain software giant.

Who also made an appearance. Naturally.

Tony Smith’s pieces were the macho geometric forms one would expect but a nod of appreciation is in order for the insight that situated these polished black crystals amidst a grove of young aspens. The trees will grow to create a startling seasonal contrast with Smith’s forms and it is this relationship that is worthy of praise.

The most surprising work was Serra’s Wake which follows the conventions of much of Serra’s work: large curving walls of steel situated carefully to create dichotomies of enclosed and open space. They rose up like the hulls of the container ships that plow through the Puget Sound; rusted and stoic in their push forward across a gravel sea. From a distance you witness them listing ever so slightly in the wind and up close you stare up to where their profiles meet the sky and you feel a momentary bought of disorientation as the scudding clouds interact with the curve of the steel to create a rolling sensation. Having never experienced a work by Serra in person it was rewarding to realize just how effective such minimalism can be and, furthermore, that it can be employed to completely different effect in different locals. For Seattle these forms are ships. For New York such forms were barriers.

And while I’ve devoted plenty of text to a few of the most notorious sculptors* represented by SAM’s park I want to end with an image of the sculpture that I personally felt the greatest affinity towards: Roxy Paine’s Split. Stark, steely, and subtle— much like the Sound itself.

*I’ve chosen not to even address the works by Louise Bourgeois, Louise Nevelson, or Ellsworth Kelly; all of whom are equally well known as the gentlemen discussed above. Bourgeois’ Father and Son would require a few stiff drinks and an entire post of its own which, I’m sorry to say, would be giving it more attention than it deserves.


The Anti-Statement

Below you’ll find the statement I posted with the Subjective show in Seattle. I had been working myself up to write something very heady, very deep; in the end this seemed more honest.

Let me tell you my first memory.

I’m sitting in a kitchen with my baby sister. There is an orange hue to everything; the rust colored tones of the trains on my pajamas, the floral wallpaper left over from the sixties, the Formica tabletop— everything seems warm. A multitude of crayons rests in the middle of the table as I explain to Ariane how to draw a bird in flight. I’m four years old.

You draw a black circle first and then make two arcs that emerge symmetrically from the circle. Naturally, I couldn’t have said that at four, but I showed my sister the secret with the black crayon in my hand. She watched carefully as one bird joined another in a desert sunset.

This is my first memory. I can prove it with a photograph of me drawing with my sister at the kitchen table while in my train pajamas. It also happens to be the first photograph of myself that I feel some connection with— I’m not just a chubby baby bathing in the sink or being propped up by pillows to stay centered in the camera’s lens.

Either this photograph supports my first memory or it has created it. Regardless of the truth it opens my autobiography.

I could tell you other stories. Some are mine, and some belong to people I haven’t met. Perhaps I’d start with the one about a room full of carved limbs and cases with pounded metal hearts. Or maybe you’d prefer to skip the pathos and read about an earless cat that could outwit her owners. There’s also a simple story of an Easter morning with pressed clothes and the photographer’s white linens, or the more complex recounting of how Rome spread a combined haze of brutality and spirituality across the Western world.

As a child you slowly develop an understanding of clichés. You inventory them and make a point of avoiding them as you develop your skills as a writer. The hardest cliché for me to ignore as an artist is the “thousand words.” Here are seven pictures and each one is worth a thousand words. But everyone is entitled to a different combination of words within that thousand. You can choose the story and you can create the memory. This is far more important than any definitive statement I might make about the work. The most I could offer would be a dissection of the process that created them, but that would make for a dry read. I would have to expound upon the relative merits of gesso, toner, powdered graphite, and assorted brands of tea. I wouldn’t want that to be what helped shape your perceptions of the work. Honestly, I’m not invested in the idea of making a statement— I’d rather share a few stories.



My first solo show opens this week in Seattle. It will include seven larger works that have been created over the past three years.

A solo show is one of those career milestones in the art world. It somehow affirms your commitment to making art by testing the limits of your ability to both work a full time job while simultaneously working an equivalent amount of time in your studio. Such a division of labor often forces me to reflect upon whether I’m compromising in both sectors of my life. Wiser people than I have pointed out that adulthood is a continuous stream of compromise, which sounded reasonable until I was asked to take part.

Fine art is esoteric and, therefore, culturally undervalued. Few people will find monetary stability (the cultural currency) to match their artistic gifts (the currency of the creative individual). I think most artists have difficulty accepting this fact— for obvious reasons. Who wouldn’t have trouble being told that their defining characteristic was of very little value?


A New Statement

Artist statements confound me and I pray for the day when someone else might bother to consider my work and put their reaction to words.

Yes, I understand that the public likes something to read. I recognize that we’re in a sound-bite culture and publicity must be pithy. And it’s true that much of the modern art world is conceptually obtuse— demanding, perhaps unreasonably, that the viewer spend some time developing a relationship with the artwork.

I have a show coming up in Seattle and it was requested that I write a quick little tag line to promote it on the website. My clunky prose was gracefully reworked by the show organizer and reads:

Baker's drawings derive from a variety of photographic images: flea market snapshots, digital pictures, and many from his own experiments with handmade pinhole cameras. He ties together the subjects through his predisposition for the decayed and imperfect.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Truly.