BAKER OVERSTREET Follies
Fredericks & Freiser
through October 4
When attending the opening reception of a Saatchi darling, it seems that expectations comprise the unspoken undercurrent of the gallery’s dialogue and dealings. For while this is not London’s East End, there is no mistaking the businessman-turned-art dealer’s heavy, influential hand, even in the very heart of Chelsea.
Perhaps you believe wholly in his very public tastes and standards of contemporary art’s promotion; your first impulse might be to anticipate shocking, graphic visuals that leave audiences gasping quietly under their otherwise unshakable breaths. Indeed, one may take the introspective approach and enter solemn and wary of the artist’s high-profile patron and his inevitable effect on a young, fresh body of work. Whatever your stance, you attend without question. There is hope of provocation, and the possibility of a struggle.
The works of Baker Overstreet, however, have negated these preconceived notions almost in their entirety, rendering them invalid through his own use of paint, composition and form. Rather than relying on shock value, the artist focuses his efforts on relating to what connects us all as viewers, what has been referred to as a ‘record of that shared commonality.’ The geometric, symmetrical motifs that make up his canvases are neither shocking nor explicit, and instead offer the balanced and almost tranquil aesthetics of folk and tribal art. While the bright colors are flashy, at times on the edge of vulgar, there is little to detract from the overall pleasures of his bold and seemingly familiar forms.
Attempting to speak to that which is universal, Mr. Overstreet’s arrangements lend themselves to a variety of interpretations. Figures that contain both human and architectural attributes come together in arrangements that are at once both intricate and expansive, vast and defined. The numerous layers of paint and apparent hand of the artist add to his manner of method and technique, alluding to the process and progress of each work.
When viewed together, the works present themselves almost as sculptural set designs for stage performances with a slight hint of science fiction worked in to every angle. His Continental Bathosphere brings together the architectural elements of columns and floors or levels to break up the composition, while at the same time employing the overall look of a spaceship about to take flight.
As such, even Mr. Overstreet’s titles evoke a sense of play and performance within his broader context. Alabaster Plaster Caster and Sequined Cyclone Sequence remind viewers of childhood rhymes and rouse memories that can be understood and addressed by all types of audiences. These two specific pieces take on almost robotic characteristics, with long arms of color drawing the viewer’s eye up, down and around the picture.
With ‘Follies,’ the artist delivers a primitive abstraction reflective of totemic, childlike drawings that use strong colors and stylized patterning. Using abstraction to negotiate between this interior and public sensibility, Overstreet’s paintings evolve as visual contradiction. Built-up surfaces of impasto are juxtaposed with more clearly defined geometric forms. In doing so, the artist has brought forth a kind of lexicon comprised of individual gesture and the presentation of process. Through this active formalism, symmetrical arrangements create almost deceptive pictorial fields: fleeting suggestions of figurative or altered structural forms create shadows of the familiar through the urgent, brusque hand of the artist.
In battling this tension, Mr. Overstreet’s paintings present themselves as instinctive and raw sentiments, eliciting a sense of naïve, almost outsider, work. In doing so, his paintings serve as a link between primitive histories and modern excess. Through a universal understanding of recollection and the formulation of interpretive imagery, Mr. Overstreet leads us towards our own array of memories while providing the tools with which to understand his own, unique world. There exists no hand here besides that of the artist, and the only struggles that live involve the viewer and himself.
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After receiving her Masters degree in Modern and Contemporary art history from Christie's Education in London, Geanna returned to the states and currently works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She lives and writes in New York City.