All posts by Chris Baker

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Christopher Baker

Art means making choices: color, composition, subject, etc.  Since I adhere to no formal “rules” my painting process actually begins with my camera.  Following my collecting of images, I work in my studio in Weedsport, NY with a carefully established rhythm of photo, sketch, painted color study and final painting.  Following graduate work at Rochester Institute of Technology (MFA), I began painting professionally, first in oils and moving on to gouache.  Forty-five years later, I still feel humbled by this simple process and regard it as a key to occasional successes.

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If I have a consistent theme over many years of painting, it is “Light” and how it defines form and mood.  Working in gouache in a very traditional style has always been challenging to me.  Raised in Western New York, I still find limitless inspiration in our local landscapes and architecture, often making changes in light and shadow to emphasize details of importance.  I would hope that my audience is tempted to see things in a new way, and discover some surprises within my paintings.

When I’m painting well, I feel that I’m thinking with my hands.  I’m a firm believer that painting should look fresh and easy.

Painting appears to me as a map with roads going in all directions and with lots of choices as to where I should “go”.  After choosing a “my destination” or theme, I enjoy exploring a subject until it becomes too “predictable” to me.

Construction scenes have been a recurring theme for a number of years.  Not always seen as beautiful, I find the interplay of light over machines, land and figures both challenging and exciting. Additionally, the relationship of construction workers to heavy machinery is awesome. Drawing and perspective now play a key role in representing these subjects accurately.  The creative portion of my process comes during this drawing stage, as I have to make choices as to what to include or eliminate.  Next comes color and value studies allowing me to focus attention on what is most important.

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Cityscapes hold great fascination for me.  The colors, contrast and constant movement in these construction sites are challenging and an afford me the opportunity to explore the detail and freshness of the moment.  Keeping the image fresh and not overworking a subject is an essential element in these paintings.  Maintaining the lively feel for the site, while giving it the appearance of strict organization is much like painting itself.

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In contrast to the lively interplay of figures, machines and the busy city, I also enjoy the solitude of interiors and the peaceful feel contained therein. For example, a simple stairway to my former studio might seem fairly mundane, but with the drama of flooding light from above, for me, the subject comes to life.

Over the years of painting, I have become increasingly aware of the abstract qualities of my subject, as opposed to the detail.  I often begin a painting with a 4” brush to establish lights and darks, eliminating all detail until the values are “right”.  I’m striving for an incomplete gesture, including only the elements necessary to the subject.

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Doorways, windows…any subject where light can flood an interior and give life and form to its contents.  Keeping interiors “fresh” has always been a challenge to me.  Like painting a still life, an interior study seldom moves, leaving me “too much time” to study and find the smallest detail.

Of particular interest to me recently, has been graffiti.  I find that the freshness of its application fairly amazing, and along with its vibrant colors present a lively commentary to the otherwise “quiet” environment.  The life left behind and the application of paint beats like the pulse of the artist to me.  To “reproduce” these images on paper, and with the conscious use of perspective and light, is a great challenge to me.  I feel that it’s really a matter of “play”, not necessarily having a predetermined outcome…maybe like the graffiti artists?

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…and of course railroad cars!

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Stop by Main Street Arts to see Christopher Baker’s paintings in our current exhibition House and Home (runs through August 19). View his work online at paintingsbychrisbaker.com.

Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by printmaker Dale Klein.