D is for Durable

M is for Muir, 2009
acrylic, leafing, toner, tea, and wax on panel
7.375" x 7.375"
Click on image for larger view.

When I'm on field trips with my class I don't get too many opportunities to take photographs. The reasons for this should be obvious. However, and here is the great irony, the only times I tend to travel are when I take field trips with my class. Oh wicked conundrum!

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I learned very quickly that only the most durable camera will survive a road-trip with a class of adolescents. That fancy new DSLR would certainly be the most versatile camera, but it would hardly hold up to falling out of the back of the van when the cooler lid is thrown open carelessly in the pursuit of snacks. So, I opt for indestructible over versatile, and always bring my trusty manual Nikon FE with a first-gen Lensbaby. The Lensbaby, while exceedingly limited in what it can do, has no glass components. That means that 70lbs. of lumpy duffle bag can be thrown on top of it and nothing much will happen to the simple plastic bellows.

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M is for Muir was taken in the California Redwoods as we wound our way down to San Francisco. The students were completely immersed in ensuring that the quiet majesty of the Redwoods was anything but quiet so I took a moment to fixate on a few of the fallen giants that bordered the path. As usual, some yahoo had felt the need to deface the soft orange bark of a 200' long nurse log and that is what I ended up photographing. I'm still a bit unsure as to why I compile so many images of initials carved into trees— I suppose because defacing a tree is not all that different an act from taking a picture. Both claim that one tiny presence shared a moment with something much greater.


A Fit of Absolutely Warranted Panic

Pressing Through — before waxing

Earlier this month I promised I'd share a studio disaster with you, so here it goes. Above is a depiction of a naked tree pressing through the fog. Below is the same panel after being varnished with two layers of cold wax medium.

Pressing Through — after waxing

When much of my white pastel disappeared under the first pass of cold wax I wanted to cry. Cry in a most unmanly sort of way. Cry in the way that only a month of ten-hour days in the studio can bring about.

I had counted on the cold wax to seal 3/4 of the works I'd created for the upcoming show, but suddenly I was confronted with the possibility that this technique would irrevocably alter the appearance of all my drawings. And there was no way I could frame everything behind glass in time.

But I didn't cry. Instead, I did what any artist would do in a similar situation. I ran to my former drawing teacher for help.

Luckily her studio is only three doors down from mine. She graciously stopped everything she was doing to come and see the source of my distress. A distress, she informed me, that could have been prevented with a few layers of permanent fixative prior to the application of cold wax.

To be fair, I had used fixative. Workable fixative. One layer.

I thanked her profusely. She just smiled and remarked that she didn't know what all the fuss was about. "It's a lovely image Jeffrey."

After a few hours I came around to seeing things her way.


60" On Center

Maude Kerns Installation— North Wall

While there is nothing conceptually radical in my approach to hanging the show at Maude Kerns Art Center(MKAC) I thought it might be worth taking a moment to discuss why everything was not simply hung on a center line at eye level.

Having worked in a gallery before the prevailing wisdom for hanging an art exhibition is that 2D work should be hung so that the center of the work is in line with an imaginary line 60" from the ground. This rather arbitrary measurement is derived from the idea that 60" is "eye-level" for the average person. It is an appropriate de facto placement when the gallery wants to safely represent the work of an artist; i.e. doesn't want to go out on a limb and attempt to artificially establish or suggest heirarchies of importance among the body of work.

Maude Kerns Installation— West Wall

Is this sounding obtuse? OK. Let me clarify. When you hang some images higher or lower than others you risk subconsciously affecting how a viewer values the work. Images that are centered might seem more important than those that are lower on the wall, and those that are higher might ultimately be regarded as inaccessable or aloof. These assumptions about how height affects the viewing experience have led to some fairly radical approaches to staging an exhibition in the past fifty or sixty years, although I doubt that anything can seem more radical than the salon style presentation of images favored throughout Europe from the Renaissance until the mid-20th century.

Heim, Francois-Joseph (French, 1787-1865)
Charles X Distributing Awards to Artists Exhibiting at the Salon of 1824 at the Louvre, 1827
Musée du Louvre, Paris

I have been intrigued by salon style picture hanging for a long time and, in considering the installation at MKAC I knew that I wanted to incorporate the idea of images being displayed near each other so as to create implied narratives. I wanted the viewer to not just focus on one work, and then another work, and then another work; giving each one only a few seconds before stepping a couple (evenly spaced) feet over to the next. Rather, it seemed more effective to imply that there might be a continuity, or relationship, between different pieces. An entire wall might make up a short story with the variably sized white space between works reading as pauses. Taken as an entirety, the exhibition would display a gentle rhythm of movement as the hanging height of the works quietly rose and fell in a wave-like pattern around the room.

My hope was to imply a passage of time within space: to draw a connection between the antiquated and the contemporary. To state that all of this image making that we are doing today is simply a continuation of the long held desire to trap and preserve the transitory.


MKAC Installation Views

Opening Reception at Maude Kerns— July 17, 2009

The opening of my solo show at the Maude Kerns Art Center in Eugene this past Friday was both warm and (contrary to what you see in the pictures below) well attended. Many folks from Eugene braved blistering heat to come out and see new works by Yours Truly. I had the opportunity to answer a number of really insightful questions and I was pleased to see that different pieces really spoke to different people.

Installation View

I imagine that some artists dread openings, but I really enjoy the chance to experience the reactions of others to the work. After all, the art is meant to have a life outside of my studio and my life; exhibitions are the first step into a wider world. Selling work continues that process as it takes the artwork from my hands entirely and allows it to build an entirely new context.

Installation View

I couldn't have succeeded in realizing this show without the assistance, support, and guidance of the following people: my wife (for putting up with it all), Brandon "the Director" Spradling (for priming and leafing), Matt McCalmont (for an abundance of custom frames), Paul "the Mentor" Gentry (who provided both a couch and the photos you see here), Dena Brown at MKAC (for organizing and installing the show), Kevin Burrus (for additional framing support and cutting panels), and the Edwards family for ongoing support.

My sincerest thanks to you all.

Installation View


Opening Tonight!

Source image for The Sentinel

My exhibition at Maude Kerns Art Center (MKAC) opens this evening at 6pm. While you probably hear this plenty from artists, I must reiterate: the reproductions of the work posted on this blog and at Flickr cannot even come close to revealing the subtleties of tone and texture in the work. Now, I'm not patting myself on the back here— I'm just trying to impart to you the importance of taking a trip to Eugene in the next month and a half.

Here are the particulars. . .

Jeffrey T. Baker: Mixed Media Photographs
Maude Kerns Art Center
1910 East 15th Ave.
Eugene OR 97403
Opening Reception: July 17th, 2009 from 6-8pm
Exhibition Dates: July 17th-August 28th, 2009


The Best: Phone Conversation on Film

Ariana and I watched Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb the other night. Apart from being fantastically lit, carefully composed, wickedly funny, and boasting the sweetest credit typography* I think I've ever witnessed, it also has the single best phone conversation ever written for film (between the President of the United States, one of three roles in the film played by Peter Sellers, and Soviet Premiere Dimitri Kissoff). As there is no actor playing Kissoff in the movie, Seller's character does all the talking. He brilliantly manages to convey every word Kissoff must be uttering on the other end of the line over the course of two hilarious conversations— I can't recall the last time I saw anything on film half as smart.

*Even those who didn't like the movie still give props to the typography. . .


The Sentinel

The Sentinel, 2009
acrylic, toner, gouache, and graphite on paper
23" x 32"
Click on image for larger view.

Time constraints necessitated that I throw over tea-staining this week in favor of gouache. As you can see, this results in a much higher level of coloration across the entire image. Gouache (which is essentially a more opaque watercolor paint, for those who might not know) has another distinct advantage over tea: it can be reactivated with water and pushed to greater or lesser levels of opacity. This flexibility allowed me to reclaim some of the waterfall highlights in the background and create some selective areas of bare toner throughout the composition.

I almost entitled this Colter's Hell as it is derived from a photograph I found in a junk shop that has the word "Yellowstone" neatly written out on the back of the image. But, in the end, I decided it would be best to emphasize the act of standing rather than a place. This tree seems very stoic in the face of such majesty, and it has undoubtedly been so for many more years than I will ever see on this Earth.


Lawrence Lessig and the Remix Culture

I've been reading Lawrence Lessig's book Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Lessig is a lawyer and law professor who has been at the forefront of questioning copyright controls in the digital age. He presents a number of ideas about how the internet, crowdsourcing, and artistic remixing are the modalities for economic and cultural development in the 21st century.

Unlike other books that I've read about the digital revolution,* Lessig comes down squarely on the side of technological innovation and all that it has spurred: presenting a picture of the internet as a vast frontier of fodder for art, music, activism, education, and altruism. His primary objective with Remix is to demonstrate why 20th century copyright law and the uncompromising definition of property serves neither company nor consumer in the 21st century.

In Lessig's "hybrid" economy consumers are not just consumers, they are empowered to take an active role in shaping and advancing the things they consume. Images, music, movies, text: all are easily rendered into binary and therefore easily mixed up (or mashed up, for those of you who prefer more contemporary lingo) into a potentially cross-cultural and interdisciplinary form of new creative expression. This "remixing" is taken on by the very people who formerly just bought such entertainment to be entertained. It is, in some ways, the ultimate triumph of fan fiction** (just applied to every art form in addition to writing).

But Lessig isn't espousing a world where passive consumers simply become more active consumers and the wheels of the free market just fall into the fresher ruts formed by the digital world. Lessig believes that remix culture is a means by which democracy is enriched and ensured because it honors the way a new generation has learned to "write." As writing was fundamental to formulating our democracy (July 4th is ultimately about a written document, not beer or fireworks), democracy can only be ensured so long as a culture continues to be free to write. It's his definition of writing that is so intriguing:
Text is today's Latin. It is through text that we elites communicate . . . For the masses, however, most information is gathered through other forms of media: TV, film, music, and music video. These forms of "writing" are the vernacular of today. They are the kinds of "writing" that matters most to most. (68)
So, in my reading of Lessig's definition, it isn't an issue of the modern world becoming less text based so much as redefining what we mean by text. Like so much in contemporary life, access to more information and more context forces the critical mind to accept broader definitions for previously accepted ideas. At heart, that is a very democratic thing to do.

Whether or not you should read Lessig's book depends on your interest in contemporary culture or if you're in the profession of projecting business models into the future. It isn't a difficult text to read but it can be a bit dry and, for those of you who've subscribed to Wired magazine for the past ten years, you might be disappointed by the lack of material that hasn't already been a part of information-age-discourse. Thus far in my reading, the most salient points in Remix have centered around the need for an updated approach to copyright law. As this is Lessig's area of expertise, it only makes sense that his best moments are devoted to the ways in which new forms of copyright could benefit both artist and audience. As a founding member of the Creative Commons he has already done much to prove that he practices what he preaches.

** I recently read a short little article about the birth of fan fiction by Scott Brown. It had some real resonance after watching J.J. Abrams' Star Trek film the other night.


Titling Artwork, Pt. III

Sprightly, 2009
acrylic, leafing, toner, ink, and wax on board
6.5" x 6.5"

2. The Obliquely Narrative Title

This second style of titling that I'm inclined towards demands more of me than the simple explanatory title. It demands more in terms of time, as it takes longer to generate a title that must serve as a story, and it demands more in terms of trust, as I must feel comfortable with offering something deeply personal to the audience.

In essence, the obliquely narrative title provides a prompt to the viewer. Just like in English class, the prompt serves as the beginning to the story that you (in this case, you the viewer) must compose. The possibilities for narrative are endless following this first statement, but the first statement provides just enough information to establish some sort of subjective context for each individual. Allow me to present an example:

A heritage of red mist., 2009
acrylic, tea, pastel, toner, and graphite on paper
30.5" x 40"
Click on image for larger view.

Here is a title for a work that in no way seems to reference the actual image on the paper. Where is the red mist? Who's heritage? How can you have a heritage of unnaturally colored natural events?

In titling this work the intention is not to be misleading or obtuse— it is to provide the viewer with an evocative cipher into my personal experience. Will it ever succeed in conveying that the image was taken from a rooftop in Rome on the very same day that I visited the Colosseum and heard a docent discussing written records of a red mist of blood that would wash over the first rows of spectators when elephants were butchered by half-starved lions on the amphitheater floor?


Might the shape of the water tower scaffolding resemble the shape of the Colosseum.


Might the presence of two buildings; one modern and the other undoubtedly ancient, hint at a location that is both contemporary and antiquated.


Is it possible that by referencing red one might think of something opulent, passionate, fiery, angry, or violent.


Will anyone immediately assume the picture was taken in Rome, and that after days of traipsing about the hub of two empires (Rome and the Christian Church) I might have been drawing a comparison between the hedonistic tendencies of a waning military empire and a young religious empire.

Not likely. But the success of the obliquely narrative title isn't measured by how closely the viewer can recreate the exact ideas that shape those few words meant to give meaning to a visual product. The obliquely narrative title asks for your narrative as it relates to the image/artwork in front of you. It creates an active, rather than passive, viewing experience, and therein lies its strength. Your life, your dreams, your beliefs become a valuable component to understanding something that you took no part in creating and that makes the artwork a living entity, not just a seemingly overpriced commodity.

In my experience, how to title an artwork is not something that is given a great deal of attention at art school. It is acknowledged as another tool for assisting the viewer, but how to develop a means for titling artwork is left up to each artist. Ultimately, to name something is to value it. Names and labels allow us to organize our loves, our loyalties, and our world. I've committed so much time to bringing these images forth, it would be irresponsible of me to not Christen them and provide them another means for communicating their essence.

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Coming soon: studio disasters, new artwork, and the reported demise of text!