Art for Sale
“Each time I visit the painting, I drip paint either to lose the image or strengthen it. I build layers of color until I see in the painting that perfect quality that I’m looking for. The process is intriguing to me, especially when each painting takes on a life of its own, and the end result surprises and fascinates me.
It’s especially fun to share this experience. I like it that people find it interesting to study each painting, to think about its creation, and to trace the lines of paint. This is artwork that actively involves the viewer, and when a viewer is invited to participate and enjoy, the art is more complete. The fascinating diversity of faces and the endless ways to portray them captivates and connects us all.”
At first glance, Andrew Baird’s paintings resemble those of Jackson Pollock, the touchstone innovator of American Abstract Expressionism. Pollock’s gestural, drip technique onto raw canvases laid on the floor of his studio, and then framed to hang – stunned the art world in the 1940s’ New York City, as dynamically as jazz – another American invention – had done in the early 20th-century. Pollock’s style was New World – daring, lunatic, and visionary – but also pertinent to theories of the atom being researched and popularized in the 1930s – ‘40s. Pollock’s drip technique, besides being liberated from past art and beautifully lyrical, as in the modern ballet, seemed to penetrate the atom’s particles swirling around the nucleus – finally ‘viewable’ by scientists with the first electron microscopes, and then reported about in the popular press.
Andrew Baird borrows from Pollock, but, as we see today in quality painters, he goes beyond precedent to be the first artist to unite drip technique with portrait painting. In the art world, we call these post-Modern hybrids “original,” in the sense that they make painting new again, even though everything that can have been painted, had been by the 1970s. To this day, the post-Modernist Baird stretches our imaginations by pairing two unlikely styles into clearly innovative works.
Baird is also the line of Chuck Close, who used pixel-like cells in oils to compose portraits, as well as the earlier Georges-Pierre Seurat, who used dots of paint to compose his scenes. Here, optical blending also enables enigmatic perception of Baird’s images. The artist quips, “I might call my work ‘Seurat meets Jackson Pollack meets Chuck Close’.” He adds that Pop Art sensibility also informs his work: in their day Pop and AbEx were so opposed, that Baird’s conflation seems like art-world sacrilege!
The history of portraiture is famed and highly valued, in a way most collectors don’t quite appreciate, as much as the art historian: portraiture was the only way to record, publicize, and remember the world’s most powerful people for thousands of years of civilization – from pharaohs to caesars to saints to kings (painting and sculpture).
In Baird’s distinct manner, his drip-technique-portraits shift back and forth between highly energized, gestural abstraction to ‘solid’ depictions of his human subjects. The striking difference between Modern (pure) and post-Modern (mixed) thus transitions before the viewer’s eye — Pollock duly noted, but revised.
Baird’s large, colorful portraits also comprise a subtle use of light and dark values, underscoring their “chaotic” palette. Because his images are defined by value, Andrew Baird is liberated from total gestural abstraction, to proceed with his intriguing ‘portrait drips:’ value-and-color combinations that tease his imagery/technique to intriguingly appear and disappear, actively engaging the viewer.
Andrew Baird is a gestural, action painter – that is, one who flings or drips paint onto canvas to form compositions, rather than using paintbrushes in the traditional manner.
Traditional, brush-on-canvas easel painting by Franz Hals, Dutch, 17th century. Even though Hals’ style is very radical for its time because it is so brushy or painterly, his use of brush on canvas is still ‘standard-issue’ technique – dating all the way from the Old Masters (1300-1700s) up to the Modern Masters of pre-WII times.
Non-traditional, drip painting, being composed on the floor on an un-stretched canvas – Jackson Pollock, NYC, 1940s. This technique will radicalize ‘the new painting’ for the next half century, if not even up to our own times, today.
The first modern artists to experiment with dripping and flinging paint were the Surrealists of the 1920s – ‘30s Paris. The Surrealists believed that the power of the subconscious will and of painterly accidents would unlock secrets of art and nature in painting. They sought out many methods to create random or ‘automatic’ painting. In one experiment, they poked holes in a canvas sack, filled it with paint, and then attached it to an armature over a canvas stretched out on the floor, whereupon filaments of paint spattered and splashed onto it. They marveled at the ‘energy traces’ and lyrical beauty of this ‘accidental art.’ In other experiments, they would cover a canvas or sheet of paper with a paint solvent and then delicately pour various pigments onto the treated surface, letting the colors dissolve and coagulate randomly, as they tipped the paint surface to and fro. These ‘happy accidents’ became a type of ‘managed chaos,’ typical of what the Surrealists thought could enhance the art-making process. In other words, they were bored with the logic of control and academic design in art, and wanted to explore how the ‘physics’ of the moment could create beautiful, fascinating outcomes of ‘supernatural composition.’ Then again, the Surrealists – who were never completely abstract – would use the random marks of their methods to then ‘tease out’ figural and semi-figural subject matters.
Boston Surrealist L. Kupferman, “Marine Forms.” Although the artist begins by pouring paint over a solvent to coax coagulated forms ‘by chance,’ he then ‘finishes’ the picture by delicately painting in details, which change the images from pure abstraction to a more ‘figural’ or biomorphic abstraction. Not until NYC’s abstract expressionism, would ‘total abstraction’ emerge in American painting.
When the Nazis began their occupation of France, many of the most important Paris Surrealists sought refuge in New York City of the 1940s – where they grouped together in artistic colonies in the various bohemian neighborhoods. What happened next is legendary. With their experience in automatic art-making, the Surrealist ex-pats began to rub shoulders and share influences with a whole, younger generation of American painters – among them, the legendary Jackson Pollock. Pollock and his comrades, picking up on the ideas of their new neighbors the Surrealists, took their European methods a step further by totally eliminating any recognizable forms or figures from their paintings. Thus, were born the first American abstract expressionist works.Andrew Baird is in the direct line of the abstract-expressionist painters – but one who reverses the painterly order, yet again, by re-adding the figure to this most honored of American avant-garde painting techniques. In fact, it is often said that abstract expressionism and jazz music are the two greatest, purely American inventions in world art.
In addition to the Surrealist interest in ‘automatic’ painting methods, the other major impetus for Pollock and the other abstract expressionists was the growing interest in molecular and atomic physics – then being made popular by the 1940s press in everyday life. In the rush to the first atom bombs in the years before and during WWII, the U.S. and Germany had embarked on a breathtaking and infamously deadly arms race. But underscoring the military aspects of weapons’-grade plutonium and bomb development, a whole pop culture emerged around ‘atomic theory,’ itself. The newspapers and magazines were full of articles and stories, simplifying nuclear physics for the masses to understand. It occurred to Pollock that, in flinging paint in ‘dancerly skeins,’ he was tracing lines of energy onto his spattered canvases that were something like the lightning-quick orbits of electrons around atomic nuclei. Furthermore, since the structure of atoms echoed that of the planets orbiting around the stars, a macro-micro symmetry emerged in the creative-minded, progressive artists of the day.
By using abstract expressionist technique to compose the most beautiful female faces, Baird also reminds us that – while soul may be divine and eternal – even the prettiest face is a secret, minute world of whirling particles, brought together in aesthetic perfection by Great Mother Nature – and here enhanced by one of the brightest contemporary artists working in portraiture today.
By combining the unlikely duo of portraiture – which thrives on likenesses and naturalness – with abstract expressionism – which tries to avoid likenesses and subjects from nature, Andy Baird has created a new and original hybrid art form: the action-painted portrait. Such originality and invention by mavericks creates new areas of value in art. Baird is one such genius.
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