As the President of the William G. Baker Jr. Memorial Fund, I could not be more proud nor impressed with how far the Baker Artist Awards have come in the past 10 years! It’s hard to express what a privilege it has been to be so involved with the Baltimore artist community through such a wonderfully transformative platform, to see how immersed it has become within the community, the connections it has fostered, and the lives it has changed.
Every year I look forward to my chat with Rhea, my dear friend, on the MPT ArtWorks program as we announce the winners of the awards.
Above is the 2018 episode as it aired on May 18th, fast forwarded to my interview with Rhea, but be sure to watch the entire segment either here or on the MPT website to see this year’s amazing and well deserving artist awardees!
Here are a couple of thoughts about 2017 and how to make sense of it. I am NOT going to expound about the state of the world and the hideous political situation we are in. Instead I am going to talk about a subject that I love – my photographs and how they have changed in the course of the year.
The year started off with a big bang which never let up! I shot more images in 2017 than ever before in my life. Of course, not dealing with film and processing makes a HUGE difference, but that is not all. As I look in the rearview mirror I see that not only am I over the hill, but halfway down the other side! Instead of slowing down however, I have sped up.
In 2017 I had 88 different shoots – which translates to 1.7 shoots a week for 52 weeks or .25 shoots a day for 365 days.
To show how my work has changed over the last year I have divided the year in two parts; pre and post my Vatican visit.
Emphasizing the edges and scratched surface of the mirror lends a shattered feel to my Pre-Vatican images such as in Untitled #05-01-17-819. A large triangular shard cuts into the frail, broken figure, making him appear thin and brittle. This shard, ending in a cracked point in his leg, implies fragility, uncertainty, pathos, and even hopelessness.
The trip to Rome this fall had to include, of course, a chance to worship at the feet of one of the greatest geniuses of all time – Michelangelo. For more on my trip to the Vatican see Blog Post Want a lesson in how to ruin brilliance?
Michelangelo did not let me down. From despair to rapture, the expansive expression in his paintings at the Sistine Chapel, stunningly depict the extremes of the human condition – and he did all of this within the framework of Christianity. As a non–Christian it was easy for me to ignore the religious overtones and contemplate the momentous figures sculpted out of paint.
Back in my studio I studied the dark, grim figures on the wall. I loved them (still do) but I wanted a shift – to what, I did not know. The shape of the mirrors has been my major concern for the last couple of years, which means emphasizing sharp edges, breaks, points and cracks. But with a minor change in focus I made a MAJOR shift in seeing! I moved my focus from the surface and edge of the mirror to the figures. The mirrors are still defining the forms, but without the cracks, scratches and marks on the surface I began to explore lines and forms. Ask anyone who has ever studied with me – I LOVE LINES AND FORMS!
Without faces and heads the work becomes less psychological and more gestural reminding me of images I have made in the hot tub through the years.
When I started this journey in 1983 I had no idea that in 2018 I would still be on it. As I look back I don’t see a straight path, but rather a spiral where I periodically come back to similar visual concerns. The first time I explored the form of the body (eliminating the head and face) was in 1992, I picked up on it again 14 years later in 2006. 12 years later I am once again concerned with the forms and lines of the body but this time I am doing it, not in a hot tub, but in a studio with mirrors.
I was in Rome recently and was anxious to revisit the Sistine Chapel. I had a “skip the line” tour (with Context Tours – excellent! I highly recommend them) so the wait was only about 30 minutes. The walk through the Vatican museums was wonderful but once we got even near the Sistine Chapel the mass of people started growing. By the time we entered the Chapel we were in a sea of people – stuffed! Elbow to elbow or in my case their elbow to my head. We could barely move – I am not exaggerating. I was so afraid of losing Patricia that we literally held onto each other. It was that close. Tring to elevate myself above the situation, I began staining my neck to view what I had been anticipating for so long. I was being drawn in to the paintings when a red plastic bag knocked into my face (it was empty so no harm done) but then the loud speaker came on admonishing us for talking because “THIS WAS A SACRED SPACE!” in several different languages, every 15 minutes. The circumstances were too much for me to overcome. I was moved along by the sea until I was out the other end, utterly exhausted and seriously disappointed.
I am not and have never been a fan of the Catholic Church but I found this experience to really show their colors. This chapel is truly a sacred space, with figures sculpted out of paint, the ceiling transformed by paint and most importantly infused with the complex extremes of the human condition – literally ecstasy to agony. But the experience is completely ruined because of greed – packing into the space as many people as could fit (like being crammed into a Japanese subways.) They could have taken a page from the Peruvians who severely limit the number of people that can visit Machu Picchu a day enabling the experience to be full and enriching. Besides which, it cannot be good for the paintings with all this carbon dioxide being pumped in the air by the sea of visitors.
It reminded me of a recent trip to Bejing and the Great Wall where the crowds walking on the wall were so dense you couldn’t see space between the people. The Great Wall, built in the 15th Century, was not designed to have thousands of people a day walking on it and the Sistine Chapel, built in the late 15th century, was not designed to be used as a commercial business.
Perhaps the real miracle of this experience is that, in spite of all this, I actually WAS deeply affected by the Sistine Chapel paintings! I didn’t realize it until I got back to my studio. Looking at my work with the recent experience with Michelangelo, I decided to make a radical change in my approach to shooting in the mirrors. It might be viewed by outsiders as an insignificant one – but to me it is monumental!
Ready for it?
Instead of focusing on the surface of the mirrors I am now starting to focus on the figures!
In a recent blog post, I introduced some of my latest images, which include working with some brand new broken mirror shards. Over the years, the process of generating new and interesting shapes of these mirror fragments has evolved. My first attempt involved bending an 8′ plexiglass mirror back on itself until it exploded, dangerously blasting reflective projectiles across the studio in a thunderous CRACK. Since then, however, I’ve developed a much more elegant technique that is not only safer, but produces gorgeous fragments.
Without further ado, the refined process of creating interesting mirror shards:
Large plexiglass mirror
One large, nicely shaped, preferably round rock
Someone to direct the model/truck driver
One extremely handsome assistant to record the event on his iPhone
A hat and gloves- if it happens to be 20 degrees in the middle of winter.
Last week, while chasing my lovely little dog Lucy just outside my studio, I successfully found a particularly slippery section of the recently rained on deck. While I felt fine initially, even marveling at my dexterity in catching myself and the grace with which I fell, my wrist became increasingly sore and was gradually swelling. The rise of my heart rate was proportional to my fading pride as my assistant drove me to Patient First 20 painful minutes later.
I’m not an expert, so I find it hard to judge from the x-ray, but I apparently fractured a bone in my wrist. Major bummer, and unfortunate timing: I had arranged for another “binge – shooting” session with Carl, who was traveling up from New Orleans the very next day for a month long visit. I couldn’t even efficiently tie a shoe lace – how was I supposed to get behind the camera?
Throughout both my personal life and my creative process, I have learned that challenges will continue to arise as time rolls by. I’ve also learned that- after a suitable and acceptable period of self pity- it is important to meet these challenges head on. I would not be deterred…THE SHOOT MUST GO ON!
With a cast on my arm for the next 6 weeks (again, major bummer), pool shooting was out of the question, so it meant a return to the mirror work. I met with my trusty consultant – Google – to determine what my options were, and found a variety of devices that could make photographing with a busted limb possible. Novaflex makes a very simple monopod-type brace that can be worn around the neck to both support the weight of the camera and enable one handed shooting. I eagerly ordered one and had it delivered the next day, conveniently coinciding with Carl’s arrival.
With the exception of a few limitations, this thing is perfect. I’m forced to shoot horizontally, but I frequently find myself doing so with the mirror work anyway, so that’s not a huge loss. I am more restricted in my movements however, which presents a bit of a challenge when I’m trying to really explore what I’m looking at. I’m also forced to slow down while shooting – manually focusing and other simple camera operations require a little more effort when only using one hand. This increased effort takes a lot out of me, and I find the shoots are a bit shorter in duration. I get worn out sooner, and then the paranoia that the flesh under my cast is putrifying under the sweat and stress of it all causes me to wrap things up sooner rather than later.
Mom died October 19th, 2007 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for over fifteen years. Even though she had been gone to me for many years, her death has brought a new definition of “final” into my psyche. Her sense of adventure took her traveling to many exciting places including India, the Arctic, Siberia, Indonesia and many others. This is a picture of her at the age of 15. She learned to fly a plane before she could drive a car.
My dear father passed away on February 3rd 2008. He had valiantly and successfully battled acute leukemia for two years, but the disease finally took him. We all knew these last two years were a gift, and we made the most of them with wonderful visits and dinners full of conversations and stories. We miss him every day.
His death comes shortly after my dear mother’s death.