During the Pandemic: A Conversation with Leslie Baker, CM

Written by: Francesca Sinnott

 

 

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Pictured: Self-portrait study, oil on panel, 10” x 10”

 

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Pictured: Spring Field 2020, oil on canvas, 15” x 30”

Copley Master Leslie Baker has been a working artist and educator for the past five decades. Her stunning works in oil, watercolor, pastel and painted sculpture are characterized by a strong infusion of color and restraint yet push boundaries and defy convention. These are the attributes of an experienced artist who has experimented and taken risks and is very confident in her work. Leslie’s plein air studies in nature “fuel her abstract and color minimalist work”. She hopes that viewers of her work will take away a unique and deeply personal experience of it.  A member of Co|So since 2006, Leslie values how the organization has exposed her work to new audiences and allowed her to do portrait commissions through the Co|So Portrait Registry.

During the pandemic Leslie has been focused on keeping her family safe. She has also continued plein air painting and regularly meeting with a group of professional women artists whom she has known for the past 16 years.  “My artist group is skilled in varied media. We meet outdoors with masks or via Zoom twice a month". For Leslie, this group provides both professional and emotional support. Now that it’s getting colder, Leslie has moved inside where she is working in her studio on two series of larger canvases, based on her plein air studies.

The pandemic has led Leslie to submit works to virtual juried exhibitions including the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) and the Monotype Guild of New England. Leslie is using her Instagram platform more.  Her posts included political portraits and collage work that is not on her website.

Leslie began her career as an abstract oil painter, after receiving both a B.F.A in Fine Art and a M.Ed. (major in art). She has worked in large representational watercolors (figurative and still life), taught art classes, wrote and/or illustrated 15 children’s books including the award winning The Third Story Cat. After she moved from Philadelphia to Martha’s Vineyard (MVI) full time with her family in 1997, Leslie began to paint plein air landscapes. In recent years, she has worked in monotypes and sculptural paintings. Most of her work is in oils. She is represented by North Water Gallery (MVI).

Leslie’s work entices you to interact with color. Her knowledge of colors and their value relationships is evident when she describes how the hue of one color will be affected by what lies next to it, making it “more or less vibrant”. Varied and “intentional” color combinations can “push each other” and make a painting come alive.  She describes being influenced by the color theory exercises of Josef Albers who said, “Color is almost never seen as it really is and it deceives continually”.

“When I am digging in to my work, I find what I want to say, and sometimes the subject just falls away. What is left is my experience of the interaction of color that is around me.” She admits, “It was after I first had this realization that my work became more pared down, I dropped the subject and focused more on abstraction.”

Leslie paints on canvas over custom wood panels. “Surface is a huge part of my color minimalist work. The canvas I choose, how I treat it before I begin painting, and the mediums I use to make the surface all impact my work.” The paintings are created using thin layers of color that are dried and built up to create depth.

One series Leslie completed for a show at the Featherstone Center for the Arts (on MVI) was called “Boundaries” and consisted of works that manipulate color in a more sculptural than painterly way. Abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler has inspired Leslie to: “try everything, take risks and experiment often”. In applying this view, Leslie has been able to “imbue excitement in to her work and freshen her canvases”. She describes the “Boundaries” show as “fresh, different and unexpected”.

 

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Pictured: “Boundaries” installation, Summer 2019, Featherstone Center for the Arts, MVI

 

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Pictured: Borderless I II III, oil on canvas panel, 3” x 36”, currently on view at the Copley Society of Art

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Pictured: Boundaries II 2019, oil on canvas panel, 27”x24”

When not painting plein air, Leslie will paint from studies in her studio for 5 hours at a time, taking advantage of the natural morning light. She will draw or gesso when not painting. During the winter, she will also create monotypes using the printing press at Featherstone Center for the Arts. She describes the print making process as a “form of sketching with color”. She likes the way that the “oil paint fuses with the paper and gives a different look to the color in the work”.

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“Grid 1”, hand-colored monotype, 10”x10”

According to Leslie, “My art excites me and sustains me, even though at times it is not easy. Making art is something that doesn’t always happen every day, when you want it to. Sometimes you are going to be really productive, other times you might have a quiet time. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t working, sometimes you sit, and just look at things; this is all work. As artists, we are always working. This process is essential to saying what you want, regardless of how it’s going to be received.”