Nicholas Baxter

Anatomical Study from Cadavers

One major artistic discipline for which I have the least formal study is anatomy. I find the human figure and its underlying structures infinitely challenging in all of the complex shapes, sizes and movements they’re capable of. I’ve logged many hours of figure drawing practice from live models as well as a few painting sessions but never have had the opportunity for long term, in-depth study, starting from the inside out. Which is why I jump at the chance for any opportunity to briefly work on this artistic area, and recently was given a rare and unique invitation to observe and paint a cadaver dissection at a local training facility for medical school and EMS students.

Knowing about the rich artistic tradition of anatomical study from cadavers, which began in earnest during the Renaissance in Europe, I was thrilled to uphold and carry forward this practice as a contemporary artist. In recent times the tradition has mostly faded, and I relish the privilege I was given for a day to revive it and link my artistic practice to that of the old masters and forefathers of modern Western art, like Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Titian, among others.

Leonardo Da Vinci, Studies of the Shoulder and Neck, c. 1509-1510

Leonardo Da Vinci, Studies of the Shoulder and Neck, c. 1509-1510

Which isn’t to say that I regard myself to be in their rarified company in any way whatsoever, especially artistically. My accomplishments and artwork are quite meager in comparison with their mastery and all they left us with. What I mean is that, they started and passed on a beautiful tradition of deep artistic study melded with science–a tradition that I, in some small way, have been able to carry on, by practicing in a similar manner.

This day of training, although completely fascinating and enthralling, was not easy. We were set up in an examination room kept around the temperature of a refrigerator, due to, of course, the presence of a draped cadaver in the center of the room. Needless to say, these temperatures are difficult to be in for long periods of time without a lot of physical activity to keep one’s blood flowing and core temperature at a comfortable level. So after a while, painting with cold stiff fingers and shivering chest became the biggest challenge…and amusingly, allowed me to relate in a strange way to the severed and dissected arm of the cadaver perched on a crumpled medical drape in front of me, cold and stiff in its own way.

After observing the technician peel back the layers of skin and fascia on the forearm, all the while listening intently to his explanations of the detailed anatomy and its functioning, my friend James and I then watched in amazement as the arm was severed at the shoulder joint (quite easily) from its cadaver, and placed before us for further study. I gloved up and made a pleasing arrangement with it, and then got to work for a short hour and a half oil sketching session. Here’s the final result of an amazing day of learning and painting:

Study of an Arm, oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches, 2016

Study of an Arm, oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches, 2016

2016 Peto Biennial

I’m very honored and excited to have been among the artists whose work was selected for the John F. Peto Studio Museum’s 2016 Biennial. This marks my second time being included in the show, which is a juried exhibition with cash awards at stake.

2016TrompeL'oeil

The piece selected this time around was my recent still life “To The Nadir,” which is first in a series of new work tentatively titled “Blood Rituals.”

to the nadir-lowres

To The Nadir, oil on linen panel, 11 x 14 inches, 2016

I’ll be debuting this new body of work (which I feel is some of my best yet!) later this year. More details to follow on that exhibition, and hopefully some writing about the themes and symbolism of the series, so stay tuned!

For now, if you’re in the New Jersey area and into classical still life painting, don’t miss what will surely be an amazing show full of mesmerizing technical mastery.

On The Road 11: New England Plein Air

At the beginning of this month I travelled back to my homeland of Connecticut, hoping for late winter weather mild enough to endure some outdoor painting of the classic New England scenery I grew up with and now become nostalgic for after these last 7 years in the ecology of central Texas. I wasn’t disappointed, as Mother Nature provided a few days of sunshine with the slightest hint of spring.

Colder than it looks, trust me.

Colder than it looks, trust me.

My first opportunity was a very brief session in the late afternoon golden hour at Killam’s Point in Branford, where it was not just barely (baarrrely) warm enough to endure a stretch of time standing still with finger joints stiffening by the hour and legendary March breezes dropping the wind chill as the sun sank into the water of western Long Island Sound. The lapping of the waves into stony sand and the smell of seaweed washed ashore were both adequately satiating to my coastal longings despite the useless frozen digits and deep chill creeping into my core that didn’t fully thaw until much later that night. While far from my finest work, I appreciate the challenges overcome in order to paint something even this rough.

"Killam's Point Sunset", oil on panel, 6.5 x 5 inches, 2016

Killam’s Point Sunset, oil on panel, 6.5 x 5 inches, 2016

The following day was mercifully a bit warmer, especially being away from the coast, in the forest interior of Meriden’s Hubbard Park where I happened upon a softly babbling stream early enough into a failed quest to reach the summit of the small mountain that the park envelops. Up on that mountain, at the edge of a cliff, stands tiny Castle Craig, which overlooks the park and the rest of New Haven County to the south (and which I have never been to, despite growing up practically in its shadow in nearby Cheshire), and I hoped to reach it easily in order to paint the scenic vista of my homeland. But the limited daylight hours and weight of my painting gear upon my surgically repaired lower lumbar were enough to keep me resigned to the forest below, where I was thankful to find a secluded and easily accessible place to paint a forest interior that I’m quite pleased with. Juxtaposing the smoothly blended flowing water with the rougher chunks of loose alla-prima paint technique has become one of my favorite effects to attempt in my young plein air painting practice.

Hubbard Park easel

Late Winter Stream At Hubbard Park, oil on panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2016

Late Winter Stream At Hubbard Park, oil on panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2016