Jo Baer at Camden Arts Centre solo exhibition, Towards the Land of the Giants, opened last week.
American artist Jo Baer born in 1929 and currently living in Amsterdam is an iconic figure from the Minimalist art movement. Her trademarks paintings from the 1960s and 1970s, feature bands of colours in the peripheries of the canvases folding onto the edges. Gallery 1 shows the artist’s more recent set of works exhibited in 2013 at the Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum: six large paintings based on her life-long interest in history and science and inspired by the years she spent in the countryside in Ireland looking at Neolithic monuments and photographs of Paleolithic cave paintings.
In the Land of the Giants (Spirals and Stars), the imagery consists in a stone with a black hole in the centre of the composition with an explosion of stones and stars, an ancient Greek statue on the upper left and a raven perched on an ancient stone. Baer explains that her paintings are not about narratives, they don’t tell a story. They represent a combination of shapes, ancient marks and symbolic imagery. They are timeless and spaceless. The result remains somewhat closer to abstract art.
My favourite work from the first Gallery is Royal Families (Curves, Points and Little Ones), a painting completed in 2013. The canvas shows different sections with various stones aligned, a backdrop of green landscape, a reference to art history with the emblematic figure of the Infanta Margaret Theresa borrowed from Velasquez’s Las Meninas. In some areas, the texture looks like skin. The use of lines around the stones reinforces their organic and irregular shapes. There is a cosmic dimension, a detached and spiritual atmosphere coming out with blank spaces, an incredible fluidity and stillness. The pastel like palette contributes to create this meditative mood.
Although completely different from the imagery of Chagall’s work, there is something in common in the way the objects and figures are placed on the canvas without spatial connection between them creating a dreamlike effect.
In 1983, Baer announced officially ”I am no longer an abstract artist”. More than 30 years later, at the opening of the Camden Arts Centre show, she says “ I still think I am an abstract painter”.
The exhibition is fascinating as it surveys five decades of her career revealing the links between the works produced. Gallery 1 also shows earlier minimalist works such as Untitled (1970 and 1971) often referred as the Double Bars (preceding her Wraparounds): a white background with on each side two black column-like bands with additional coloured stripes. One of the oldest pieces in the exhibition is Untitled, 1961, where she is already playing with bands of colour and stars.
When questioned about her three dimensional work in the shape of radiators such as H. Arcuata, 1971, a big rectangle shape canvas with painting on one side folding on the edges, she stresses on the fact that it is a painting and says: “ sculpture and I have problem with each other”.
Gallery 2 shows a set of works from 2000-2010 including the extraordinary oil painting Memorial for an Art World Body (Neverone 2009): a canvas with uncut edges featuring a starry night sky with the moon, an eagle, constellations, ravens and naked women with the exception of one figure in bikini.
Towards the Land of the Giants is running until the 21st of June 2015 at the Camden Arts Centre.