Sunday, May 29, 2022

Somerville Artist Richard Baker: On Closer Inspection

Somerville Artist Richard Baker: On Closer Inspection

By Doug Holder

I met Richard Baker at the Miller Street Art Galleries in Somerville, MA. He is a tall, thin man, with large glasses; that fits his inquiring sensibility. He wants viewers to look closer at his paintings of seemingly ordinary objects, and to realize the high holy of the banal or everyday.

Baker told me he came to Somerville after 25 years in New York City. During this time Baker taught at Rutgers in New Jersey, and had a studio in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn. Baker told me one of the reasons he left the city was to pursue a love interest. But he found fertile ground in our burg, securing an ample and reasonably-priced space at the Miller Street Studios. He discovered living and working in Somerville was a less stressful environment than he found on the mean streets of NYC. He said, " I love the sense of community at Miller Street, and the ongoing conversation with other residents artists."

Baker told me that he has an interest in poetry, especially as it relates to painting. Like Jeannie Mortherwell, who I interviewed recently, he is a friend with the noted poet John Yau. It seems that he worked with Yau at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, as a coordinator of a program that worked with artists, as well as poets and writers. Baker told me he has had many conversations with Yau about the intersection of poetry and art. Baker reflected, "Poetry like painting is a snapshot of experience--it can be episodic and visceral."

Baker told me that he creates paintings of old book covers. For instance, I noticed he did an evocative painting of the " Naked Lunch" by Beat Generation writer and provocateur William Burroughs. Although a book cover painting can be seen on the surface level...there is more than meets the eye. Freud once said, " Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." But in this case it seems that Baker sees the metaphorical aspects of book covers. Baker opined, "Book covers are in essence a face. A face that ages, accumulates wrinkles, dogears, a frayed spine.. So much more is going on than simply a book cover."

Baker often uses the detritus of everyday life in his work. Newspapers, takeout coffee cups, books, etc...can take the stage. " I try to bring meaning to things we don't ordinarily think of," Baker said. And indeed --Baker is enamored with these seemingly banal objects. He told me he comes from "a very working-class background," so instead of focusing on, let's say the fine bone china in a patrician tea service, he may well be more enamored with an old Schlitz beer can. My kind of guy!

In terms of process Baker starts out with an abstract surface, and the often paints realistic objects over it. This is of interest to me because in writing a poem I start with a realistic surface and then transition to the abstract.

Baker can be found in his studio most of the time. He is a very established artist, with exhibits in prestigious galleries around the world, yet he is an affable presence, and welcomes people to visit the studio. Although many of his work are outside the price range of a casual buyer, there are some pieces that may be more affordable..

To find out more about Richard Baker go to:

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