First published: Fall 2017
Traditionally, how artists transform their materials, the themes they choose to explore and the messages they convey through their creations are some of the essential aspects that shape their respective bodies of work. Together, they help express a particular art-maker’s philosophical, political, aesthetic or other vision. But what can – or should – viewers in search of meaning in art (for some, a clear sense of an artist’s intentions serves as an anchor of understanding) make of abstract works whose ambiguity can be as puzzling as it is compelling?
Although that theme has been kicking around for more than a century in mainstream modern-art circles, in which artists informed by their knowledge of academic art history have produced abstract works in dialogue with it, that question has not really been a concern of art-makers in the related art brut, outsider art and self-taught art fields who have worked in abstract modes. For those artists, their natural, unfettered impulse to do so has not come from theory-fuelled starting points.
Untitled, 2015, ballpoint pen on paper, 19.5 x 25.5 ins. / 49.5 cm, photo courtesy of Institute 193, Lexington, KY
With this in mind, the distinctive works on paper of the self-taught American artist Beverly Baker, which lately have been earning considerable critical praise, feel all the more singular and alluring. Baker was born with Down’s syndrome in 1961, and lives in Lexington, Kentucky, in the east-central part of the United States. Lexington lies at the heart of the Bluegrass region, which has long been known as a centre of Thoroughbred horse-breeding. For many years, Baker, who began making art at an early age, has participated in the art-studio programme at Latitude Artist Community (also known as “Latitude Arts”), a facility founded in Lexington in 2001, primarily to serve people with disabilities.
A few months ago, Institute 193, an independent, not-for-profit arts centre in Lexington, working in collaboration with Latitude Arts, presented an exhibition of Baker’s works. Earlier this summer, a version of that same small survey went on view at LAND (League Artist Natural Design), an art-making workshop for disabled people in Brooklyn, New York. In both of these shows, the labour-intensive, even obsessive character of Baker’s art-making technique and the richness of her finished drawings were evident.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #95