Nicholas Baxter

Blog posts tagged “The”

Aluminum Limited Edition Prints

A few months ago I had an opportunity to produce limited edition prints of some recent paintings from my Apostasy series on a unique material: DiBond brushed aluminum.

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Anointing, Hand of God, and Transfiguration (2012-13)

This was an experiment to create a striking, ultramodern aesthetic that compliments the surgical subject matter and my photorealist painting style, and I believe the results were spectacular. The finished prints have the sheen of sterile metal when the light catches them, which picks up the highlight areas of the subject matter and makes them gleam.

Because printing on metal is much pricier than paper, and preparing the digital files is a little trickier, I started out with a very small edition size of only 2 copies each (for a total of 6), at a higher price than previous prints I’ve made, but they all sold out within a month or so (thanks, people!).

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Another great part of this project was having the opportunity to visit the printing house during production, seeing the high-tech process unfold over the course of a few hours. The giant printer, remotely controlled by an experienced operator, reminded me of the sets in classic sci-fi movies like Alien and the robotics of my all-time favorite, Terminator…which presented a fun synchronicity with the theme and symbolism of the paintings.

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Happy New Year’s to anyone who actually reads this blog, and may your 2014 be happy, healthy and filled with success! …and remember, every minute of every day is the start of a new year, so make every moment of your life be filled with hope and purpose, not just on this brief “holiday.”

9th International 2012-2013 ARC Salon Catalog

I’m very honored to be featured for the second straight year in the Art Renewal Center’s annual juried catalog! This year’s book features my painting “Anointing” on page 61, selected for the figurative category.

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Regarding the annual Salon, the ARC website states: “With an approximate 2000 entries this year by over 850 artists, the competition was steeper then ever. Even with an additional category, and expanding our finalist cut up to the top 600 entries, the finalists only include the top 30% of works submitted.”

One of the best and largest surveys of contemporary realism art executed in the traditional mediums, this year’s salon catalog is now available for sale here.

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Anointing, oil on panel, 24 x 24 inches, 2012

Creative Quarterly 30 + 31

I’m very excited to be featured in the current issue of art journal Creative Quarterly, which just went on sale recently. As of writing this, it appears that the CQ online store is actually sold out of this issue already, but you can find it in most Barnes & Noble or Borders stores around the U.S.  If you pick one up keep an eye out for the “New Talent Gallery” and page 23, where five of my “Apostasy” paintings are featured.

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What Is Art? (Part 1): Self Inquiry

“If a tree falls and no one hears it, does it make a sound?”

This is the kind of existential crisis I circumnavigate when considering (read: having anxiety about) the effectiveness of my paintings and the symbolism I choose to communicate with. Am I effectively expressing my intended meaning? And is my intended meaning aligning with the viewer’s perceived meaning? Does it even matter?

It can be argued that what makes something art is the group participatory act; it almost always requires someone other than its creator to see it. Art is, in general terms, a unit of cultural information that is put forth by participant A, and taken in by participant B. Hence, a communication. Always. A message is always put out, whether the artist intends to or not. This visual communication is even more fundamental than our ever-present and taken for granted verbal communication. At its most primal level, visual art certainly is more direct–it’s sub-verbal, it requires no complicating exchange of written or oral language.

But, contemporary art in the postmodern era is often maddeningly indirect and complicated. A product of an exceedingly complex society, annd having been created either intentionally or instinctively on the foundations of modern philosophical thought spanning hundreds of years, it does actually beg the need in the viewer for a more advanced knowledge of the visual language of symbolism and metaphor. That red means “stop” or “danger” or “look here!” is basic and even primal knowledge. That a picture of surgeon’s hands manipulating opened flesh might symbolize the oppression of technological civilization and the material-reductionist paradigm which has separated spirit from matter and meaning from life is quite frankly, a lot less obvious to all but the most studied art critics and curators. That’s where the ‘art as communication’ issue gets complicated and sticky…and so necessary for any conscientious or ambitious artist to ponder.

Anointing

Anointing, oil on panel, 24 x 24 in, 2012

Having established all of this, I ask myself again the artist’s version of the tree falling question, “What is art?”

In the case of visual art, I follow this line of inquiry to a fork in the road separating the act of creation from the result of creation or the art object, the painting that hangs on the wall. So when I ask myself what art is, I must remember this important distinction (thanks to the clumsy imprecision of the everyday English vernacular), because what I discover that I really mean is: what is an art object?

I then find that this line of inquiry opens up the need for even more distinctions: Does intention make something art? Meaning, the creator intends the work being produced to carry a conceptual pretense, some kind of idea or symbolism beyond the literal depiction or the physical, material object. In such cases where there is presumably no overt artistic intention (such as photojournalism*, the simple documenting of events), does viewer perception make it art, retroactively? Following the postmodern ethics of subjectivity, a viewer’s perception can not be disproven; if someone says it’s art, then for all intents and purposes, it is…to them.

(Insert Dada and Duchamp’s controversial urinal into the debate here.)

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So I guess what all this means is that part of my ongoing refinement as an artist is a constant evaluation of my message, its truthfulness, and its effectiveness, and in order to do this I have to dig deep into the world of art theory to prove or disprove–and IMprove–what I’ve done. What am I intending to say, and what do viewers think I’m saying based on the feedback I’ve received**? Do the two match up? If they diverge, how and (maybe more importantly) why? What symbolism and what artistic strategies can I experiment with to bring intention and perception into alignment to produce powerful, life-altering, inspiring communication?

 

*Sometime between now and forever I’ll write about my love for this “artform” and the unintentional masterpiece in What Is Art? (Part 2): Photojournalism

**Praise be to the all-important critique session!

Transfiguration: Process

Here are some studio and process shots from the few months’ timespan of painting my latest large work in the Apostasy series:

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Tracing, on the projector and ready to begin.

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Starting the block-in of color, working from a small reference.

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Optical illusion: new painting in front of recent finished piece Glorification.

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Hands like spiders everywhere.

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Wound progression.

white glaze process

Adding the final translucent white glaze to the gloves for that milky latex look.

shadow glaze process

Applying the final shadow glaze.

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Working on the finishing touches…

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From projection tracing to completed painting.

Transfiguration

Here’s my newest painting in The Apostasy series, in progress since early March and finally completed this week:

 

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Transfiguration, oil on panel, 48 x 24 in, 2013

 

The Transhumanist agenda: Raze the wilderness, extract and exploit, leave nature gutted, concentrate populations in urban cages, destroy their mind and body sovereignty, keep them atomized, drugged, distracted and entertained, parade the false hope of technological salvation, take absolutely everything, repeat, repeat, repeat…

 

Here are some detail shots:

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Stay tuned for another post soon with process photos spanning start to finish.

Dissecting Art, Intersecting Anatomy

I’m a bit late with this post, but I’m still thrilled to be included in this currently running group show co-curated by Vanessa Ruiz of Street Anatomy Blog, who featured my work last year on her entertaining site that celebrates all manner of anatomically-themed art.  Here’s the official show flier and press release for the current exhibit in Chicago:

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New Exhibit Will Take the Pulse of Cutting-Edge Anatomical Artwork While Honoring an Innovator

“Dissecting Art, Intersecting Anatomy: Merging Contemporary Art with the the Works of Pauline Lariviere”

On view March 9 to 16, 2013, at S3 Gallery in Chicago

CHICAGO, Feb. 11, 2013 — A new gallery exhibit will pay tribute to Pauline M. Lariviere, a mid-20th century artist and groundbreaking medical illustrator with Chicago connections.

“Dissecting Art, Intersecting Anatomy: Merging Contemporary Art with the Works of Pauline Lariviere” will be on display at S3 Gallery, 1907 N. Mendell St, Suite 4-H, Chicago, from Saturday, March 9 to Saturday, March 16, 2013. Public hours include the exhibit opening and reception from 6 to 10 p.m. on March 9 and also noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 10. Other hours are by appointment. Admission is free.

In addition to original art by Lariviere (1906-1988), a French-Canadian artist influenced by Picasso, the exhibit will showcase approximately 50 recent cutting-edge works in an anatomical vein by more than 20 rising and established artists and illustrators from across the U.S. and overseas working in diverse media.

All of the pieces on exhibit are for sale, including those by Lariviere.

Exhibit curators are Chicago artist and industrial designer Phillip Schalekamp, owner of S3 Gallery, and Vanessa Ruiz, Chicago-based art director and medical illustrator and founder of Street Anatomy, which maintains a visual blog and produces gallery shows.

The show will include 10 of Lariviere’s original oil paintings, which were reproduced as anatomical charts for medical classrooms and offices. Also on view will be 20 photographic glass plates of Lariviere’s illustrations used in the print production process.

“Her unique use of abstraction was new to the realm of anatomical art,” Schalekamp says. “She used it to convey dense medical information through visual symbols that are easy to grasp. Her departure from realism was controversial, but it was highly successful. Her style is still used in medical illustrations today.”

The contemporary artists in “Dissecting Art, Intersecting Anatomy” work in media ranging from oil, pencil, watercolor, acrylic, and photography to sculpture, furniture, video, human hair, and chocolate. Their work has appeared in solo and group shows and in publications.

Schalekamp says some of the pieces were created expressly for the show. Others are existing pieces that extend Lariviere’s pioneering work in applying modern art techniques and perspectives to science illustrations.

The following U.S.-based artists will be represented in the show:

  • Alexandra Baker, Ashville, N.C.; pencil and Adobe Photoshop
  • Nicholas Baxter, Austin, Tex.; oil on panel
  • Sung Jang, Schaumburg, Ill.; hair on canvas
  • Whitney Johnson, Chicago; collage
  • Vesna Jovanovic, Chicago; watercolor, ink, graphite
  • Michael Koehler, Chicago; sculpture/mixed media
  • Robyn Maitland, Chicago; acrylic on canvas/glass
  • Geno Malusek, Indianapolis, Ind.; photography
  • Nathan Mason, Chicago; photography/collage
  • Emily Portugal, Chicago; video
  • Dan Price, Chicago; sculpture
  • Danny Quirk, Springfield, Mass.; watercolor
  • Billy Reynolds, Los Angeles, Calif.; oil on linen
  • Brandy Rinehart, Chicago; sculpture/mixed media
  • Phillip Schalekamp, Chicago; oil/mixed media
  • Stephen Shanabrook, Cleveland, Ohio; chocolate
  • Andrew Svek, Chicago; furniture/walnut

International artists will include:

  • Emily Evans, London, UK; pencil
  • Alvaro Hidalgo, Viña del Mar, Chile; mixed media
  • Patcho Quinto, Quezon City, Philippines; pencil and Adobe Illustrator
  • Giselle Vitali, Barcelona, Spain; pen, ink, watercolor, colored pencil

Lariviere studied art at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Montreal and London’s Slade School of Art and studied medical illustration at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md., under famed illustrator Max Bodel.

Pauline_Lariviere_TopographyLariviere’s work appears in editions of Grey’s Anatomy and in numerous medical and nursing textbooks. A 1942 profile of Lariviere in the Montreal Standard said, “Streamlining kidneys and glamorizing intestines, while emphasizing their detail like a scientist, Miss Lariviere has obtained international fame.”

As a freelance medical illustrator, Lariviere painted anatomical charts for Chicago’s Denoyer-Geppert Company (now headquartered in Skokie, Ill.), producer of anatomical models and other medical education materials.

Some of her original works for Denoyer-Geppert were exhibited on Chicago’s Navy Pier in June 1948 during an American Medical Association conference there. Chicago Tribune writer Eleanor Jewett observed, “Three beautifully presented anatomical charts by Pauline M. Lariviere . . . are of the greatest consequence. . . . The charts are painted in oil and are truly remarkable.”

The Baltimore Sun profiled Lariviere in June 1950, noting that she “is pioneering a new type of medical art.” The newspaper said she creates charts “which not only are edifying and accurate, but are aesthetically pleasurable.”

Schalekamp of S3 Gallery says he discovered Lariviere’s work while browsing in a Chicago science surplus store, where he came across a set of glass printing plates. He bought the plates and later acquired a set of Lariviere’s original oil paintings from Denoyer-Geppert, where they had been in storage for decades. Intrigued, Schalekamp began researching Lariviere’s life and work and delved deeper into the field of medical illustrations and models.

 

Three paintings of mine featured in the exhibit:

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

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

Light of the World

Light of the World, oil on panel, 12 x 24in, 2012

Anointing

Anointing, oil on panel, 24 x 24in, 2012

Glorification

My latest installment in The Apostasy series, and the last for 2012, is now complete.  Four times as big as the next smallest piece in the series, and by far the largest painting I’ve attempted in oil at 48 inches square, this was a grueling endeavor.  Quite frankly, I’m just relieved it’s over, but on the positive side, I feel much more prepared and able to take on the next (and second to last!) piece in the series, which will be in the same large size range.

Here is a visual walk through the process of making this painting, which for now I’ve tentatively titled Glorification:

oil on canvas board, 12 x 12in, 2012

Glorification (study), oil on canvas board, 12in x 12in, 2012

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Projection Tracing

Starting Grisaille

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The Special Sauce

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Glorification-lowres

Glorification, oil on panel, 48in x 48in, 2012

Happy new year everyone! May we all enjoy success in our continuing endeavors, and a progression in awareness, happiness, and health from an individual level to a global scale.

 

 

 

In The Studio 3

Some of this past month’s progress shots from my massive 4-foot square painting currently in progress. Hoping to have it completed by the end of the year…

 

The start of details, a.k.a. the fun begins.

Escape From Flatland: Apostasy Redux

Last week while reading the work of my newest fascination Ken Wilber, I stumbled quite happily upon an eloquent explanation of one of the central themes of my ongoing series, The Apostasy.

Wilber’s brilliant writings have been a huge influence as of late, on both my life and the conceptual side of my art. His staggeringly comprehensive, “post-postmodern” philosophical synthesis of every major tradition of human knowledge is called Integral Theory.

The Quadrants: insides, outsides, singular, and plural.

One of the central tenets of Integral is the quadrant system, which is a way of describing literally every aspect of reality (which Wilber calls the “Kosmos”), including ourselves and our perception. The usefulness of the quadrant system lies in the user’s ability to critique a person or movement who may be falsely claiming absolute truth based on partial or inadequate knowledge. That is, limited knowledge hailing from only one or some of the 4 quadrants, rather than comprehensively stemming from (and thus integrating) all of them.

“The Kosmos” means everything.

Enter here the postmodern reign of materialism and its hallmark of scientific reductionism, which flattens all of reality to merely what can be perceived, charted, or quantified with the physical senses.  This phenomenon, while leading to remarkable advances in the physical sciences and Western/allopathic medicine, has ironically also led to devastating consequences on human health and happiness, as well as on the Earth and its fragile ecosystem.  Ken Wilber has accurately dubbed this phenomenon–this mental paradigm–Flatland.

This ripe contradiction, and the spotty veil of incomplete truth that the postmodern materialist worldview presents, were the fertile ground for many of the concepts I’ve attempted to portray through this series of paintings.  Reading the words of Ken Wilber, which so succinctly summarized my intentions, inspired another revisitation of my central theme.

Wilber describes the Flatland process as such:

The flattening, the leveling, the collapse of the Kosmos. The universe was pushed through a strainer of objectification, and the result was thin soup indeed. All that was left of a richly multidimensional Kosmos was simply the sensory/empirical exteriors and outlines and flatland forms, much as if a sphere had been projected onto a plane surface, producing only a series of flat circles–all span, no depth–at which point we say, “What sphere?”

In short, depths that required interpretation were largely ignored in favor of the interlocking surfaces that can simply be seen (empiric-analytic)–valueless surfaces that could be patiently, persistently, accurately mapped: on the other side of the objective strainer, the world appeared only as a great interlocking order of sensory surfaces, empirical forms.

This…”view from nowhere”…could not prove itself–but rather was taken, literally, on blind faith, a faith blind to the entire Left half of the Kosmos.

(Wilber, Ken. Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. Boston. Shambhala, 2000)

This excerpt, when considered in relation to my artist statement which equates modern science with religion, sheds further light on these concepts:

 Surgeons and scientists alike have become the new priests of a material-industrial age, in which living organisms seem to be regarded as no more than an assemblage of mechanical parts…Science is the new religion, Big Pharma is the church, the doctors are priests, pills our Holy Communion, and sickness is our only hope of salvation when diseases are dollar signs that fortify the edifice.

And lastly–moving from theory to reality (I think I can hear snoring already…)–here’s a progress shot of the latest and largest yet, at 48 inches square:

Street Anatomy

Thanks to the nice people at the very interesting and fun blog Street Anatomy, who just reviewed my Apostasy series.

Check it out.

 

Passion

In between paintings of my ongoing surgical theme (The Apostasy), I’ve been searching for little sparks of inspiration for my next series of paintings. Attempting new subject matter and freeing myself from the confines of a very specific painting process are two strategies I often employ for a creative jumpstart.

So, last month I finished another experimental painting involving a splatter process and a strange juxtaposition of subject matter. I wanted to revisit what I’d tried in my recent still life Denial Vanitas with that splatter technique, and get even looser with it. As the painting came together over a few weeks, it increasingly reminded me of an older piece completed in much the same way, and with a similar aesthetic, called Comfort.

Layer 1: multi-colored splatter.

Splatter detail.

Layer 2: blocking in and establishing form.

Block-in detail.

Adding the final shadow glazes.

More of the final glaze layer during application.

“Passion”, oil on panel, 16in x 9in, 2012

“Passion” (detail)

 

Wash-In Value Study

I found this photo I’d taken a while ago of the value wash-in of my recent painting Sacrificial. I had written about this painting earlier this month, but forgot to include this progress photo.

“Sacrificial” (value wash-in)

In order to make achieving the final vision of a painting seem less daunting, I often break the process down into as many easily-approachable steps as needed. One way to do this, of course, is to begin with nothing but value, or light/dark relationships, in a heavily-diluted wash.

 

Realism Techniques 7

I finished painting #12 in the Apostasy series, now tentatively titled Sacrificial, a few days before my recent galavant to Galapagos. Didn’t get a chance to post anything about it before I left, but let me just say: That trip was crazy. So crazy that re-entering the studio upon my return was like landing in a time warp to a long ago era. Like a cat in a new home I sniffed out the place to make sure it was still real, still my life(?), in this current place and time, and then gratefully got the fuck to work on some prints for an upcoming group show (more coming soon on that).

Good to get outta here for an adventure, but good to be back in the creative womb with some new entries in that cluttered/overflowing filing cabinet called mind.

So, to get myself caught up, here’s the now foreign-seeming latest:

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

Mini-Layers

For anyone actually reading this blog on the regular, the technique of layering to achieve high levels of realism should be at least somewhat familiar by now.  Yet, within this broader process of applying paint in separate layers lies the specific technique of applying paint in small amounts, during the progression of a single painting session, or layer. In other words, a wet-into-wet paint application which mimics classic Alla Prima techniques, yet occurs within the quite contradictory process of indirect (or layered) painting.

For example, the basic form and colors of the gloved fingers shown below had been established after one opaque paint layer (which I usually call the block-in). After that first layer of opaque paint was dry, subtlety and detail were added in the subsequent layer shown, but this increasing complexity, not surprisingly, requires increasing care during application. Towards this end, paint is added sparingly, in thin amounts, and blended down to join it seamlessly with the dried block-in.  I move through an area, micromanaging approximately 1 inch square sections of the painting, each receiving the same apply/blend treatment.

I use Galkyd Slow-Dry medium with all of my paint mixtures, and pay close attention to the viscosity of the paint when mixing on my palette, since overly fluid or thick consistencies can make this stage of the painting process incredibly difficult.

Finally, where mini-layers come into play is when the application and blending process is repeated during the same painting session. I revisit many of the 1 inch square areas while the paint is still wet, and re-apply another thin layer of color, blending that out very carefully so as not to destroy the first application. …And so on, until these wet mini-layers have accumulated thick enough that I deem the layer no longer workable. At this point, the session is finished and I wait for that layer of paint to dry before revisiting the same area again.

The sequence below shows some of these steps. If you look carefully, you can see tiny areas of paint being applied and then smoothed out. These same areas were worked over once more in the same fashion, with certain areas receiving a third pass during that same day’s work.

Look at the purple shadow area first, then the off-white knuckle wrinkles, then the orange and deep red under-lighted areas.

 And lastly, a studio shot of my reference for the piece, which was perhaps the most complex and densely detailed of the series thus far:

The scalpel was a final addition to the already heavily-Photoshopped reference image, replacing a much more modern cauterizing scalpel, whose unsatisfactory look of a Lego toy betrayed its badassness. See this blog post for more on the intricacies of reference usage.

The Inquisition

Painting #11 from The Apostasy series, finished a few weeks ago:

“The Inquisition”, oil on panel, 12 x 12in, 2012

I wrote about some of the aesthetic decisions made during the painting process here.

Regarding symbolism, this piece–along with “First Judgement”–deal with gender and the genesis of personal identity. For all domesticated humans born in hospitals, there is no escaping this moment of truth, which begins a lifelong process of psychological conditioning by the all-seeing eye of culture.

To be binary: male or female. Gender assigned and reinforced. A life indoctrinated, molded.

An inquisition of the vulnerable by archetypes of power, the first judgement (literally) marks the first loss of innocence, the beginning of a differentiation between self and other that many spend a lifetime trying to erase, or simply comprehend.

And what of the uncertain ones? The ambiguous? Born damaged or incomplete? What happens when the wrong judgement is handed down? What happens when the gender binary facade is shattered at birth…when the entire construct collapses later in life?  When we get sick of playing our roles? Get sick of enforcing the roles on others?

Who do we find at all, when we question who we are underneath all that we cling to?

“First Judgement”, oil on panel, 12 x 12in, 2012

In The Studio 2

After completing painting #12 in the Apostasy series this week I cleaned out my solvent rinse cup which I’d realized had possibly reached an all-time record toxic sludge accumulation. Over the past 9 months of painting this series (and a few randoms) the usual 80/20 solvent/debris ratio had been reversed (no wonder my brushes weren’t getting too clean anymore?). And it had turned a weird gray color? Not sure what that’s about. Naturally, I had to document my little contribution to the degradation of ecosystems and immortalize by posting on the internet–life, circa 2012.

Oil paint sludge: the excrement of art.

 

Realism Techniques 6

After a few experimental forays I returned to the studio recently to continue work on The Apostasy series, which has been my major ongoing project for the past year.  Due to time and size constraints, only the first 10 paintings in this series debuted at Last Rites Gallery for my solo show in May and June.

I’m still very inspired by the themes and subject matter of these images, so it was great fun diving back in–I felt like I picked up right where I’d left off before my show.  The most recent painting I completed was a perfect example of the realism artist’s need to deviate from a strict reproduction of the reference material in order to maximize the intended symbolism or desired aesthetic qualities.

Using Reference Effectively

In this case, my reference image, which in itself had been highly manipulated from its original photographic state with Photoshop, featured a metallic instrument rather starkly silhouetted against a harshly lit background of tender skin.  I was faced with the artist’s “executive decision”: to ride the simple, graphic power of the flat black silhouette, or to increase the nuances of its surface texture in order to emphasize the effects of the hard light behind it.  Either choice works just as effectively within the overall composition, but caters ever so slightly to a different level of meaning within the piece. Power of steel instrument to manipulate the fleshly realm, or power of the light of truth usurping man and all his manipulative tools?

I chose the latter. So, this involved the invention of some extreme lighting effects on the surface of the instrument. These I hoped would more fully express the metallic nuances and form of this foreground object, as hard backlighting bends around it, creating a bit of a warm flare.  In general, I thought this increased action would add some more life to the piece. You can compare these deviation attempts in the provided sequence of photos, which starts with the specific area of my reference image, and ends with the corresponding section of the completed painting. (Image of the full painting coming soon…)

Intentionally painting the instrument too light at first allowed more control in creating subtle variations of lighting on the object.

Ultimately this entire issue is of minimal impact to the outcome of the entire image, and for those unfamiliar with the quirks of extreme realist painting, may seem like an exhaustingly trivial matter.  However, I enjoy it as yet another example of the myriad opportunities for creativity in a genre often mistakenly deemed uncreative.  Often, the creativity in ultra realistic styles simply operates at an unexpected and far subtler level than most viewers are trained to recognize.

Far from a mere copy-machine, the experienced realism painter works often with fully premeditated intention on every minuscule aspect of the painting, making a countless number of creative decisions and unique departures rarely noticed by the undiscerning eye. In fact, if the artist’ technical skill is strong enough, there’s no way that these aspects can be noticed. Like a magician, full acceptance by the audience signifies completion of the ultimate illusion.

In The Studio 1

I had these studio pictures laying around, so I figured I’d post them.  They’re from my recent series “The Apostasy” which is still on display for a very short time at Last Rites Gallery in NYC.  See the blog archive for previous posts about the series, and view it now in its entirety by navigating through the “2012” category to your left.

Thanks to the generous collectors who bought paintings!

“Baptised” in progress, with reference, November 2011.

“Baptised” palette madness.

Painting the final image of the series, “Communion” at the Paradise Artist Retreat in New Mexico, February 2012.

The Apostasy

The following text is an artist statement I wrote early this year to accompany my latest series of paintings, which opens tonight at Last Rites Gallery in Chelsea, NYC.

"Anointing"

I thought it wise to warn you, gracious reader, that the essay is intentionally provocative.  Generalizing statements are made with the intentions of eliciting the emotions contained in the work, as well as inciting critical thought and dialogue about its themes. 

It needs to be said that I don’t perceive all modern science and medicine as a negative force—on the contrary, there are a great many caring and compassionate doctors, surgeons and other practitioners trying to help people every day. In fact, in a tremendous twist of irony, the very hands I was fortunate enough to be able to portray in these paintings are those of a world-renowned surgeon performing a life-saving procedure.

But, that being said, the purpose of my art has always been “to confront the moral, religious, and aesthetic foundations of Western Civilization” (to borrow the recent words of photographer J.P. Witkin).  It is a shot aimed at the constructs and constraints of modern life that so many of us take for granted, a plea for deeper understanding, and an attempted progression towards vast new dimensions of awareness.

"Hand Of God"

The Apostasy

By Nick Baxter

A·pos·ta·sy  [uh-pos-tuh-see], noun, a total desertion of or departure from one’s religion or faith.

These images represent an inquiry into the medicalization of modern society.  In our time, the specialized knowledge of an elite group has been canonized and made gospel, resulting in the learned helplessness of an increasingly ill populace. Surgeons and scientists alike have become the new priests of a material-industrial age, in which living organisms seem to be regarded as no more than an assemblage of mechanical parts.

Cultural edicts handed down have portrayed our bodies as flawed, as if still soiled by original sin and in need of salvation. So we prostrate before possessors of a seemingly divine knowledge, an authority built on the upturned ruins of the common sense that modern man has forgotten.  With nature gutted and wild instinct thwarted, a remaining paper-thin veil of scientific belief is all that divides story and reality. It is mere faith that separates benevolence from malevolence.

Shrouded in mystery, alien hands descend from the darkness. Otherworldly appendages of the vicars of the corporal levy power upon trembling flesh.  Sworn to heal, while possessing the means to harm, they are like iron fists in latex gloves.

Science is the new religion, Big Pharma is the church, the doctors are priests, pills our Holy Communion, and sickness is our only hope of salvation when diseases are dollar signs that fortify the edifice.

So this is my apostasy, my leap for sovereignty from the dungeon of a castle made of glass and steel sterility. A journey back towards wholeness in The Garden that made me. A breach of faith in hopes that I may rejoin the wild world and be healed in its immeasurable and immutable wisdom.

 

"The Reformation"

“We domesticated humans have lost our way.  We have misplaced ourselves outside of the ecosphere.  Like astronauts on a strange and foreign world, we have sought to create sterile bubbles of lifelessness in which to dwell, forgetting our interconnected, symbiotic reliance with all species of our planet’s life.  This symbiosis is the umbilicus that feeds us the nutrients of joy, fulfillment, and thriving longevity that are the gift freely given to all of the children of our Mother Earth. …. Our collective expression of health is but an expression of our relationship to the ecosphere, as we can never truly exist independently from it.”

—Daniel Vitalis

 

“Whatever medical science may profess, there is a difference between Life and survival. There is more to being alive than just having a heartbeat and brain activity. Being alive, really alive, is something much subtler and more magnificent. Their instruments measure blood pressure and temperature, but overlook joy, passion, love, all the things that make life really matter. To make our lives matter again, to really get the most out of them, we will have to redefine life itself. We have to dispense with their merely clinical definitions, in favor of ones which have more to do with what we actually feel.”

—CrimethInc. Ex-Worker’s Collective

 

“The human body is not a closed or static object, but an open, unfinished entity utterly entwined with the soils, waters, and winds that move through it—a wild creature whose life is contingent upon the multiple other lives that surround it, and the shifting flows that surge through it.”

—David Abram

 

“The word ‘health’ comes from the word ‘whole.’ In this holistic view, we can experience illness as an opportunity to generate spaces for transformation, create supportive rhythms and move towards balance.  Symptoms of illness, then, are not enemies but friendly movements that guide us again towards wholeness.  Healing involves re-balancing that which takes place in the spaces between formation and annihilation.”

“Illness should not be viewed as a curse, but as a challenge to the human spirit, a stepping stone in the process of soul evolution, a crack in the door that, when opened, reveals inspiring vistas of the mysterious workings of the universe.  The doctor can give potions and guidance, but each patient must make his or her own pilgrimage.”

—Thomas S. Cowan, MD

"Baptised"

Then, And Now 2

While looking through a file cabinet today I unearthed a relic from one of my more memorable childhood artistic phases, centered around a lively obsession with the comic book, cartoon, toy, and eventual movie franchise Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’m not sure how old I was when I produced this mess masterpiece, but thankfully my skills have developed since that time.

I often wonder, with no shortage of amusement, if the seed of my current deep appreciation for the Italian Renaissance masters was planted as a child by these cultural icons of my 80’s generation.

 

Leonardo

I find it fascinating, in hindsight, the attention I paid to more intricate anatomical details like veins, even at this young age...

The Apostasy

...considering how this focus has remained and evolved up to the present day.