Nicholas Baxter

Blog posts tagged “Apostasy”

Summer Exhibitions

This has turned into quite a busy summer for me, as I have various recent paintings scattered across the globe in several current group exhibitions. Even though it’s been a whirlwind of packing, shipping, emailing, posting, and filekeeping (custom-made art inventory Excel spreadsheet FTW!), I’m honored to have my work included in these shows. Check out the list below and see if any are near you!

 

I have one recent still life included in the juried biennial of the Peto Museum in New Jersey (see recent blog post for more info).

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

I’m showing 4 recent paintings in Austin, Texas gallery Art For The People‘s “Off The Wall, Off The Flesh” exhibit.

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"Hand Of God"

“Hand Of God”, oil on panel, 24 x 24 inches, 2012

I have 4 recent still lifes in Rome, Italy at the MACRO museum’s “Tattoo Forever” exhibit, featuring the fine artworks of noteworthy tattooers from around the world.

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"July", oil on linen panel, 12 x 9 inches, 2015

“July”, oil on linen panel, 12 x 9 inches, 2015

 

I have a recent painting from my Apostasy series exhibiting in “Flesh to Canvas” hosted by Last Rites Gallery at the Empire State Tattoo Expo, a yearly group show featuring non-tattoo fine artworks by many of the top tattooers in the world.

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“The Offering,” oil on linen panel, 11 x 14 inches, 2015.

After it returns from AFTP’s current exhibit, my recent still life is slated for inclusion in the 11th Annual International Juried Exhibition of the International Guild Of Realism, which will happen at Gallery 1261 in Denver Colorado in late August.

"Dying In America," 2015, oil on linen panel.

“Dying In America,” oil on linen panel, 5 x 14 inches, 2015

Pariah

"Pariah", oil on panel, 2013, 12 x 24 inches

“Pariah”, oil on panel, 2013, 12 x 24 inches

My painting “Pariah” was an experiment in contrasts between the extremes of shocking subject matter and uplifting emotions, between surface appearance and underlying symbolism. It evolved out of an intriguing and unusual backstory, and I think anyone wishing to understand the painting on a deeper level than the initial shock value that its grotesque subject might offer could benefit from knowing the story. As an artist, I like to learn everything I can about a piece of art that interests me, in order to deepen my understanding of and appreciation for it. But if you like to interpret art completely from your own imagination, without the influence of explanations, this essay will definitely be a spoiler.

I completed this painting in late 2013 after forming its concept over the previous year of working on my Apostasy series. For that original group of 10 paintings my primary source material and visual reference was a batch of surgery photos “smuggled” to me by a nurse friend who happened to assist on a highly publicized procedure performed by a world-renowned pediatric surgeon in Los Angeles.

The surgery in question was the removal of a parasitic twin body–a set of legs and arms with a partial torso of their own but no head or brain–from a young Asian boy. This risky procedure also happened to be the subject of a documentary produced by The Learning Channel about rare cases of conjoined twins. As my friend explained to me afterwards, “there were cameras everywhere,” and so many unnecessary people in the operating room that it felt like a party, not a surgery. So, she figured, as long as I didn’t depict any precise likenesses while altering and cropping the source photos to fit my artistic needs, it should be okay for me to use them.

Little did I know, the day I first saw those photos sometime in 2011 would start a still unfolding artistic evolution, in which “Pariah” is but one chapter. I’d seen plenty of photos like those before, had often used visceral flesh and blood imagery in my work, being strangely attracted to the aesthetic of their glossy surfaces, warm colors and the soft organic patterns of flesh and body tissue. But never had I as close an encounter with the source of the imagery, nor had I seen photos of anything quite like the incredibly unique and rare procedure of separating two tiny conjoined bodies.

I stashed those photos for many months, looking at them occasionally while ruminating on the themes of life and loss, health and sickness, fragility and brutality that they suggested. It wasn’t until some health struggles of my own necessitated some frustrating forays into the modern medical system that the ideas crystalized and motivation appeared, and with a solo show at Last Rites Gallery in Manhattan approaching in the spring of 2012, I got to work.

Many of the surgery photos had an ambiguous quality that made them appear quite like mysterious snapshots of a strange and very serious, even frightening, ritual. I focused on these shots while culling down the imagery for my solo show, but never forgot one photo that was very unlike the others. Its stark brutality set it apart from those and made it too obvious for the intended ambiguity of the series, but its disorientingly grotesque beauty still haunted me, whispering a vague inspiration into my subconscious.

In this photograph, the disposed bodily artifacts from the surgery were arranged neatly like ornaments on a cloth-lined tray for scientific appreciation, in the precise locations they would have inhabited had they been the constituents of a fully formed little boy’s body. Oddly distorted in shape and size by the parasitism, the tiny limbs–two legs, two arms, a chunk of torso with bulbous intestines splayed out–looked tragically angelic, heavy with dead weight yet still full of lively color and capillary blush.

That loving commemoration of a dismemberment spoke to me more as time went on. It seemed a succinct representation of what a technological society does to its citizens, all of us in some way or another, starting at birth and continuing well into adulthood. One by one, or all at once, our wild traits, impulses, and inconvenient feelings are intercepted, punished, shunned, contextualized, repressed and denied, severed and forced into an individual and collective shadow psyche. Whether done with good intentions or bad, for better or worse, the disassembling is the same. This living dissection is the process of enculturation and assimilation: the purpose of civilization.

The inescapable cultural phenomenon filters down into individual lives, in turn influencing what we do to each other in personal relationships. Friends, family, lovers alike are each cut up into traits, moods, and moments. We categorize these desirable and undesirable, rewarding the former in order to encourage more of them, punishing the latter in order to banish them from our experience. We do unto others as it’s being done to us; part instinct and part conditioning. We end up severed, ashamed of some parts of ourselves while clinging to others. And so most of us grow up with fragmented psyches craving wholeness, wanting instinctively to be put back together again in the compassionate embrace of person and deity alike.

How fitting, then, to use that image for a painting honoring the pariahs in our world, and in ourselves. I wanted to create a visual wish that those who’ve been eclipsed could wear that crescent ring of light as a halo. That the broken could be seen as beautiful in their imperfection. That the cast out, the unloved and unwanted, could all have their day of acceptance.

"Pariah" (detail)

“Pariah” (detail)

I like to paint what many people would deem ugly and shocking things because I believe the grotesque needs to be fully accepted, and even seen as beautiful, in order for inward and outward progression to occur. I believe that each and every aspect of reality has its own intrinsic value while also being a necessary part of a complete whole.

Although not obvious to anyone seeing the work, in “Pariah” I enjoy the contradiction between its subject matter and the feeling I had while painting it. In other words, the unity of dark and light that resulted from painting a child’s severed body parts while meditating on compassion and love. Like the unification of all dichotomies, I believe the intersection of brutality and empathy is a fruitful place. I wanted this painting to be my document of that, and, once the backstory is understood, a map of sorts for getting there.

“Flesh To Canvas” Group Show

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I’ll have my recent painting Singularity for sale in Last Rites Gallery’s annual Flesh To Canvas group show next weekend at the Empire State Tattoo Expo in NYC, July 10-12. Please contact the gallery for inquiries on this piece or my other recent work currently in their inventory, Sacrament (Vanitas).

Singularity, oil on canvas, 18 x 20 inches, 2014-15

Singularity, oil on canvas, 18 x 20 inches, 2014-15

 

Sacrament (Vanitas), oil on panel, 16 x 20 in, 2014

Sacrament (Vanitas), oil on panel, 16 x 20 inches, 2014

April Magazine Exposure

By sheer coincidence I have paintings featured in 2 magazines this month, both from my ongoing Apostasy series.

The painting Hand Of God II graces the inside back cover of anarchist journal Rolling Thunder #11 (with a beautiful 7-word interpretation offered by the editor), while a newer painting Sacrament (Vanitas) causes queasiness on the front cover of Tattoo Artist Magazine #37.

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Hand Of God II, oil on panel, 36 x 48 inches, 2013

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“The operation succeeded, but the patient died.”

To see some progress shots of the following painting, revisit my previous blog post about it.

Sacrament (Vanitas)

Sacrament (Vanitas), oil on panel, 17 x 22 inches, 2013

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Sacrament (detail)

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Painting Gallery Updates!

One of my smaller New Year’s resolutions was to update this website with all of the paintings I’ve done over the past two years. Well, I’m happy to say I can cross that task off the list, so please check out the new categories in the lefthand navigation column. The last time I’d added anything to the gallery pages was early in 2012 after finishing the first 10 paintings of my Apostasy series (exhibited at Last Rites Gallery that year).

Since then I’ve been blogging steadily about newer completed works, enjoying this venue as an opportunity to share progress photos, technical instruction, and to dive into the thought process and symbolism behind my paintings. I’ve fallen a bit behind on writing about some of my newer pieces in the midst of some distracting life events, and I may write more here about these paintings later on, but for now they’re all posted under the new 2013 category.

I also want to say THANK YOU to all the generous collectors who’ve bought paintings and prints over the past few months. I’ve had an extraordinary run of sales lately, selling out my aluminum print editions and parting ways with a handful of various smaller paintings completed in the last few years, placing them in collections here in America and around the world. I feel incredibly grateful for the financial support, and honored to have my creations appreciated by others…not to mention relieved to clear some much needed space on my crowded studio walls.

Of course, many of the paintings just posted in the galleries are still available (as well as various pieces from my last few series that have been posted for a while, Reclaiming and the aforementioned Apostasy), and are noted as such in the image details. Feel free to inquire if interested.

To end this on a more interesting note, here are some progress shots from a recently completed painting. I can’t post the finished piece in its entirety just yet, as it’s slated for exclusive release on a magazine cover later this year. But for now, enjoy this sneak peak into the process:

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National Juried Trompe l’oeil Exhibition

I’m honored to have two paintings on display at the John F. Peto Museum in Island Heights, NJ as part of their national juried show, described on their website:

“The John F. Peto Studio Museum invites artists working in the trompe l’oeil style to participate in its National Juried Show of Contemporary Trompe l’oeil. The purpose of this exhibition is to showcase contemporary art work that ‘fools the eye’ and demonstrates the innovative ways in which artists continue to express themselves through trompe l’oeil.”

Trompe L'oeil Poster

I’m glad they appreciated my contemporary and edgy take on the classic trompe l’oeil look, as I attempt to merge the traditional and modern into one presentation. The pieces chosen for the exhibit:

"Denial Vanitas", oil on panel, 11 x 14in, 2012

“Denial Vanitas”, oil on panel, 11 x 14in, 2012

"Sacrificial", oil on panel, 12 x 12in, 2012

“Sacrificial”, oil on panel, 12 x 12in, 2012

 

New Vessels

Lately I’ve been brainstorming and refining a new artistic vision, taking the opportunity of any downtime between large surgery paintings to complete some smaller, fast-paced still lifes with a much different palette and ambiance.

These pieces utilize clean forms and simple compositions, attempting a confluence of opposites to symbolize the precarity of industrial civilization in the new millennium, the increasing sense of dread among many who see the global destructiveness and the coming end of late-stage capitalism:

Serenity and catastrophe…the mundane and the dramatic…solidity and ethereality.

Like much of my work these pieces are also influenced by Buddhist philosophy, with smooth surfaces representing the perfection of form that simultaneously experiences impermanence: smoke, flames, and ultimately, annihilation. These vessels are bodies facing their inevitable destruction through aging, inflammation and disease.  These vessels are the purification of the ego, burning away its own delusion and illusion.

 

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Endgame II, oil on panel, 6 x 7in, 2012

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Endgame III, oil on board, 6.5 x 7.5in, 2012-13

This budding series is an expansion and evolution of the themes broached in another less recent painting, which of course is also a metaphor for the edifices of civilization and their approaching collapse; the rise and fall of human achievement:

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Endgame I, oil on canvas, 5 x 7in, 2009-12

My plan (completely subject to change in the winds of artistic inspiration or be ground in the gears of other life obligations) is to continue to refine these concepts and build up to scenes of larger scale and higher complexity, as I wind down my Apostasy series this year.  Who knows what will actually happen, but I’m excited and nervous about finding new challenges. So stay tuned for more updates on both endeavors.

 

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Small, medium, and large…