The name of Leslie Baker’s most recent show is “Raw Color” and that is what you will see: a collection of paintings and monotypes of stunning beauty and color. Flat. Layered. Transparent. Dense. “Non-objective abstraction” is the precise description. They have no recognizable subject; no boats, no houses, no beaches. Their subject is the artist’s exploration of possibilities.
Ms. Baker works on a colored ground and begins at the edges, the border that contains and defines the image. “This is the structure and space where I begin to investigate the properties of a color,” she says. “Look at the edges. The tiniest orange line is important. The overall impression is of a surface covered in color, but look for the subtleties.”
An oil painting, “Pay Attention,” is aptly named. It presents a large, vertical, green surface that attracts the eye. But look at it carefully. Look at the variations of greens playing off one another. Look at where one color lays up against the next, how the central, blue-leaning green, more thickly painted, sinks into the glowing chartreuse that surrounds it. There’s a lot to see.
“Burnout” is a painting in orange and violet, first worked on as a series of monotypes. Ms. Baker has been printing every Thursday morning for years at Featherstone, and monotypes are a way of quickly beginning to work with an idea. Monotypes are called “the painterly print,” because the artist paints the image onto an indelible surface, then that image is transferred to dampened paper by going through a printing press. The pressure of the press gives a unique surface quality and an unpredictability to the process. It makes the ink and the paper and the image into something that the artist can control to a point by technical skill, but never completely. The resulting impression can be drawn into or reworked and reprinted, making a series of impressions that build upon one another.
Another series in the show is called “Moving Apart.” These paintings form a triptych, three squares exhibited with the monotypes that preceded them. One learns about an artist’s artmaking process by seeing what leads to what, how one monotype grew from the preceding one, and how the paintings further developed the original idea. All of Ms. Baker’s larger oil paintings were inspired by making monotypes, and it is interesting to see them shown together. “I tend to work in a series because, like writing or music, some ideas can’t be expressed in a single piece. When groups of art that are closely related are presented together, small changes in each piece take on importance,” she says. Any opportunity to see art this way is a real gift from an artist to the viewer.
The titles of the works are equally interesting. They appear enigmatic, but to listen to Ms. Baker speak about her work is to gain insight into her thoughts on art and the world around her. She is well-read, articulate, thoughtful. “Ideas about art can come from things you have read, poetry, natural phenomena, science,” Ms. Baker said. “There is a big world out there that we don’t see. It is micro- and macroscopic.” She said the two titles “Moving Apart” and “Burnout” were “based on information from the Hubble telescope that explores the idea of expansion and waves of light.”
Ms. Baker is represented on the Island by A Gallery in Oak Bluffs. She is a master member of Boston’s Copley Society, and exhibits at its gallery on Newbury Street. This spring one of her monotypes, “Watch Out,” was included in the Monotype Guild of New England’s fourth annual National Juried Show.
Leslie Baker’s exhibition opens with an artist’s reception on Saturday, May 28, 4 to 6 pm, at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse Art Space in Vineyard Haven. The show will remains on display through June 23. For more information, contact the Playhouse at 508-696-6300 or mvplayhouse.org.