Categorized | Reviews

Teresa Baker @ the Luggage Store

Mhazuetsa II, 2014, acrylic on felt

A visit to Teresa Baker's Headlands Center Studio this past year – where she had been enjoying a year-long residency as the 2014 Tournesol Awardee – found her taking full advantage of the opportunity to expand upon and deepen her practice.  Trying all kinds of new directions in her work – some successful, others not as much – Baker was experimenting with felt, drawing, cut paper and pure painting, and even affixing recognizable objects to her otherwise abstract creations. Thus, it was a pleasure to see her consummating exhibition at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco and to find that these investigations have resulted in a strong and engaging new body of work.

Baker’s art bridges painting and sculpture with simple, often odd combinations of cut, rolled, sagging and torn fabric and painted areas, always adhering to the 2-dimensional surface of the wall as a touchstone. Conversations and relationships between marks and gestures or attitudes of the materials lead to the works conveying subtle presences or identities, which evoke intimate and visceral responses.
Often, Baker’s work is intentionally ugly or awkward, although, many of the works currently exhibited at the Luggage Store are also quite beautiful. While Baker has often tacked her painted forms and fabric directly to the wall, all of the works in this show are stretched on canvas – likely a nod to the Tournesol’s being a painting award.
Untitled, 2014, felt on felt

The six works on display are all fairly large and explore a diverse range of possibilities – from pure material to varying combinations of fabric and painted surfaces. An untitled piece consists solely of brown, stretched felt. Part of the felt folds and hangs over the top of the stretcher, breaking up the regularity of the frame and leading to a humble, expressive presence. While clearly adhering to fundamental 2-D elements of painting, one might also be reminded of Richard Serra's verb list, describing minimalist actions relating to sculpture, such as "to fold," "to hang." 

Mhazuetsa II most elaborately combines painting and cut material. It consists of purple felt stretched over a rectangular, horizontally oriented canvas. The right side is painted pleasingly with gestural areas of bright yellow, pink, white, red and green.  Strips of fabric on the left, dangling down beyond the frame and spilling playfully and invitingly into the viewer’s space, echo the lines and colors of the painted areas.  
Mhazuetsa, with its human scale and its strong blue and yellow contrasts, exudes the strongest presence in the room. Consisting of a large rectangle of stretched blue felt, it rests on the floor, in the viewer's space, and leans slightly against the wall. The piece is strikingly figural, taking on a noble, monumental air enhanced by a shawl-like, painted canvas that hangs around its “shoulders.” An area of brown painted on the right side of this
Mhazuetsa, 2014, felt, acrylic on canvas

shawl is echoed, but muted or painted over on the left, simultaneously suggesting presence and absence  – which seems appropriate in a piece that references Baker’s Native American heritage.  Baker is from the Hidatsa Tribe in North Dakota, and Mhazuetsa, which means sweet grass, is a revered material used in ceremonies and daily life to clear away bad spirits.

Around a corner, in a separate niche of its own, is an equally strong (also untitled) piece – strong for its modest presence rather than its boldness. A rectangular canvas made up of soft, pastel, cream and pink areas, it includes a heavy, grey felt blanket folded in a diamond shape and affixed to its middle.  The piece simultaneously calls to mind the subtle Minimalism of Agnes Martin, Mark Rothko's hazy, divided canvases, and Robert Morris' hanging, cut felt works, which also adhere to the wall. The work contains a lightness and weightiness, suggesting both transcendence and groundedness.  It exudes a quiet spiritual air, an effect enhanced by the work’s separate presentation in a dimly lit niche of its own.
Each of the works Baker presents has a scale that relates to the body, heightening their physical impact.  The distinct presence and personality she cultivates and the varied range of approaches she employs are complemented by the amount of space they are allowed.  While the Luggage Store is a large gallery, having only six works on display, gives each of them plenty of room to breathe, allowing for relationships between work and viewer to unfold. 
About the Author
Suzanne L’Heureux lives in Oakland where she runs an alternative art space, Interface Gallery, which highlights the work of emerging Bay Area artists.

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