Tales of Passion and Woe – The Cathartic Art of Carrie Ann Baade
The Afterlife of the Honey Bees, gouache and ink mixed media on paper
Abundant with symbolism, both familiar and newly invented (her work includes “the gods, rulers, and demons [and more] as metaphors for the complexity of absolute states of the human condition”), Carrie Ann Baade’s paintings speak with intelligence and love to the collective unconscious. The stories that Carrie tells are dramatic and explore social issues both personal and societal. To boot (and perhaps this is more important to note), her works are intensely beautiful to behold and speak with a strong feminine voice. As if to soften their blow, they are often punctuated with a strong sense of humor (sometimes sardonic) that, in my opinion, elevates her work to the highest degree… because where would we be as humans without the ability to laugh at ourselves every once in a while?
On her way up to Philly for the opening of her solo exhibit, “Tales of Passion and Woe” at Rosenfeld Gallery in Philadelphia (details at the bottom), we had a little chat:
SL: I often hear you say that your work is very cathartic for you. It’s very cathartic to view as well; I can relate to some of the stories your paintings seem to tell, whether or not I understand them in the exact way you meant. What is it you offer to viewers who explore the myriad symbols in your work?
CAB: It is difficult to calculate what the viewer will take away from a work. Sometimes I can be made uncomfortable by how deeply moved someone might be by something that is utterly autobiographical and deeply personal. It was a huge revelation for me to find that if I make work that truly poured my heart and soul out, that others would feel it. As a young artist, one goes through the activity of making dangerously bathetic, deeply felt work so over-handed as to perhaps be a little embarrassing. This is the danger of sentimental work…there is no way to say, “just kidding!” I think the big jump here is the language; I am using an archaic language that is rooted in religious painting and illustration. The visual devices of narrative painting utilize symbols and attributes to elucidate allegories, myths, parables, and fables. It is the visual story telling language. I have been disappointed and relieved that no one can read my thoughts or the real life behind my work. I would not wish to have anything more personal out in the world, like being a writer…is a fantasy and nightmare of mine. There used to a time that I felt I needed to control what the viewer specifically took away from the work and I think I am trusting myself more and the painting itself to do the work.
SL: You used to paint frequently on copper, then moved away from it to work on canvas. Some of your newer work is on panel. What are the differences between all these surfaces to your individual style and needs? Are your choices simply practical or do the differences in materials actually alter how you paint?
CAB: My students all know: I hate canvas. I love the stability of panel; it feels real. Canvas is like painting on drum that is aching to have something ruin it (for example). I do like the texture of linen and would sometimes affix this to panel…but it has been awhile. I am passionate about substrates and will sometimes have my students turn their work around in the course of a critique to show off a superior surface to their classmates. One’s choice of substrate definitely affects the painted image. It is an affinity and a calculated choice. Historically artists who were using egg tempera used panels. This medium demanded a smooth surface, and created tight, overwrought imagery. Panel is heavy and was more costly. The advent of oil painting permitted artists to paint bigger and their works to be lighter. The warp and weft [of canvas] affect how the paint is dragged across the surface in such paintings as Velasquez’s. In 2002, the book “Copper As Canvas” was published through the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. This book sang the praises of the metallic substrate for it’s inability to take on humidity and thus warp or expand and contract with the changes in humidity therefore leaving the work less affected by time. There is a tradition among painters to create lasting objects and part of my attraction [to copper] has been durability and longevity. I gave up copper for a time, because, while luxurious, it is truly expensive and heavy, but also because I was cultivating a version of the [Ernst] Fuchs’s school of painting: the Mische technique. Amanda Sage, a student of Fuchs’s who teaches workshops in the Mische technique, and I have spoken and we agree, I am doing the “Bastard Mische Technique.” What this requires is a panel covered with true chalk gesso (hide glue and calcium carbonate) similar to the ones used for egg tempera where I create a fully rendered ink drawing and then I layer the painting with traditional indirect oil painting methods. I skip some steps from the Mische…but I have been really excited about what the tight underdrawing has done for my work. Now that I have a handle on this, I will be returning to copper and a process that is a little more like 17th c. Dutch processes as opposed to the more 15-16th c. Flemish.
SL: Your painting method seems to have remained very consistent over the years. You start out creating a collage from bits of art history, your own photographs and newspapers. When the collage is ready, you paint it in a trompe l’oeil fashion, playing with the edges of the cut paper in the collage to “…suggest the complexity of the individual’s psychologies – their exposed masks and their concealed secrets.” How did this method develop and do you see yourself moving away from it in the future?
CAB: My process is something that I continue to be dedicated to. It is also problematic because my work appears to vacillate in subject because I am partially working from found imagery. While having conflicted feelings about retiring collage elements that I feel attached to, like the second eyes, I found that the way I generate work keeps it authentic and fresh for myself. There are no plans at this time to diverge from my working methods…I will just continue to stoke the huge piles of imagery with new fragments and see what happens. I paint from a variety of themes that are unpacking themselves over years rather than being resolved in a given body of work.
A Caterpillar Explains the Female Orgasm, Oil on Panel
SL: Would you ever consider displaying the collages?
CAB: Ugh. (sigh) This is one of those topics that I have not really resolved, yet. While there is a prestigious history of collage making, Hanna Hoch and Max Ernst are two of my favorites, I have not been able to view my own collages as art. Every once in a while there is a collage that is actually better than the finished painting which is so hard to bear. Jerome Witkin once told me that I was “…a chicken-shit painter who painted to please…” and that I should stop painting and become a collage artist. I was so dedicated to oil paint and “being a real painter” that I sort of told him off and said he should quit teaching…which was probably a little stupid of me…since he was really excited about the collages. The collage is an element that I require to paint the painting, but I destroy them as I work. Even if I work to resolve elements of the composition for 20 hours in the collage, they are just a means to an end that wind up getting pulled apart as I work. The collages are reduced to their original fragments, which get rolled over in my chair and trampled underfoot as they fall to the floor of my studio. So, while I do save the collage…you must understand they are little like sentimental road-kill. So far they have never been exhibited and their little fragments are all interred lovingly in portfolios for me-me-me.
SL: I’m largely intrigued by semiotics: subtle and obvious symbols that create depth of meaning in a work of art. Your paintings, filled with both familiar archetypes and self-made symbols, often make me think of Jan van Eyck’s The Marriage of Arnolfini (or whatever title you may want to attribute to it). Even though van Eyck’s Arnolfini painting is a less emotional work than yours tend to be, its symbolism makes it intriguing in similar ways. I’m curious as to what your viewpoint of that might be. Can you relate?
CAB: The title to a work is a little like a Buddhist koan awaking the viewer to the artist state of mind. A great title can unlock the painting and literally turn a painting on. In undergrad I was so flipped out to realize historic artists, prior to 1850, didn’t really title their work, that these were more conventions of the art historian. For example, Parmigianino didn’t name “The Madonna of the Long Neck”…some art historian did. I felt like a title was something that the artist failed to do, that this was a way to make up for what the painting lacked. However, we live in a world that is so tense with precedent and meaning we, as visual experts, require a thread to pull open the meaning of the work. I think it is far too much to expect the artist to “get it” without a clue.
Beyond the title…I am very interested in pictorial semiotics and how they relate to art history and theory. I find it interesting to build my own symbols and references within my own work and play this against the accepted readings of symbols. By building upon accepted readings I attempt to recreate meta-narratives where I tell stories through stories making the fragments behave as doorways to prior painting. Beyond this…I am sure I would have to go back to college to figure it out.
SL: What are your predictions for the future of the pop surreal – what do you think will happen as we recover from this recession?
CAB: Curious that the rise of Pop Surrealism coincided with the greatest economic hardship of this era… There is amazing art occurring in this pseudo movement from great individuals whom I am so fortunate to get to show and hang out with. Like any movement, I think we will see a few succeed when there were just a bacterial amounts of new artists. My prediction is that the recession will act as agent-aggressive antiseptic. Only the best artists and businessmen will succeed; it is clear to me that at least two are thriving while everyone else is hurting. Travis Louie and Kris Kuksi are hard at work… so hard, they deserve their success. As to the sustaining or maintaining of the genre, I believe we shall see these fortunate few graduate from the title that marginalizes their singular identity. They will continue on to the halls of Valhalla and become art gods in the greater pantheon. To paraphrase Mr. Louie, “Monet wanted to be Monet, not one of the Impressionists.”
SL: What do you have planned for your upcoming solo show at Rosenfeld Gallery in Philly?
CAB: This new body of work seeks to exploit the language of illustration. It is so easy to get a chip on one’s shoulder when one is doing a style of work that is out of fashion, but I think that the new era of illustration or representation narrative work has arrived for the enjoyment of most. It is part of what makes Pop surrealism so palatable. In the past, it was ok to dismiss a work as being illustrative, but I also saw the degradation of representational art suffer in the after affects of Modernism until Vermeer, the god of painting, was reduced to this pejorative of “illustration.” Pulling from the medieval book of days, Persian illuminated manuscripts, Indian paintings, and the rich history of Western book illustration…this body of work liberally exploits this language and it’s visual devices in what I like to call superlative ILLUSTRATION!~ (insert maniacal laughter here).
Carrie is currently an assistant professor of painting at Florida State University. She graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Delaware, and studied, for a time, at the Florence Academy of Art in Italy.
“Tales of Passion and Woe” can be seen at Rosenfeld Gallery, located at 113 Arch Street, Philadelphia. If you’re nowhere nearby, you can visit Billy Shire Fine Arts/La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles or POP Gallery in Sante Fe, NM and ask the gallery to show you their inventory.