Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Fantastic in the Fine Arts: Carrie Anne Baade's "Cute and Creepy" Exhibition

It's October--the month of witches, ghosts, and all things spooky--and we are very excited to be able to feature artwork this month that fits with this theme.  Florida State University's Museum of Fine Arts is running an exhibition entitled Cute and Creepy, and throughout this month, we will use this column to feature the work of one of the artists in the exhibition.  The exhibition runs from October 14 through November 20, and we would encourage you to visit it in person if you are in the Talahassee area.  For today's column, Nancy Hightower talks with Carrie Anne Baade, the curator of the exhibit, whose own artwork also fits well into this theme.  The images posted are either Carrie's own work or pieces that will be featured in the exhibition.

Carrie Anne Baade, The Vanitas of the Honeybee
6 of 6; A Caterpillar Explains the Little Death
2009, oil on panel
One of the reasons I love Carrie Anne Baade’s work is that it “breathes new life into mythology. [Her] subjects include gods, rulers, and demons who speak about the complexity of the human condition. These are cautionary tales of love and power, and also icons for modern society that is far from saintly.” She begins her paintings, oddly enough, with scissors, “composing from snippets of several hundred pictorial fragments scattered about [her] on the floor.” I love this image of the artist, surrounded by chaos that resounds of child-like wonder nonetheless, for who has not sat on the floor, surrounded by pictures and magazines, scissors in hand? But Baade’s collages then become the basis for her beautiful trompe l’oeil paintings, “showing the multiple layers with cut edges which suggest the complexity of individual’s psychologies – their masks and their hidden secrets.”

Despite her postmodern, pop-surrealist flair, Baade uses “archaic traditions of both painting oil on copper, and egg tempera panel painting with gold leaf”–a homage to the old masters such as Brueghel and Bosch, served up bricolage style to a hungry audience who want to see both the past and the future: “I consider myself to be steward and ax man to the legacy of art history by cutting and serving up the reinvigorated past to be contemplated in context of the contemporary.”

Now while we’ve had many an academic conversation about how the grotesque plays out within the movement of pop surrealism, we’ve never really delved into the realm of the fantastic, especially regarding the upcoming exhibition, Cute and Creepy, Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts, which she curated and I wrote the catalogue essay for. So, I asked Carrie Ann to explain what she thinks is the importance of the fantasy/whimsy/fantastic in art today.

Ray Caesar, Descent, 2008
Carrie Anne Baade:

“In the highbrow art world, fantasy was a pejorative term to use for the entirety of the 20th century, and this went hand and hand with the idea that illustration wasn't 'art.' Clearly, this has changed in recent times. There has been a steady rise in acclaim for great illustrators that have been lock step with the rise of counter culture and populist art.

What is populist art you say? I would define that as art that people enjoy. You might ask, how did it happen that art was hard to understand and too esoteric for most peoples tastes? Well, the 20th century was all about challenging conventions and being provocative, when God was declared dead and visions were removed to the realm of madness. It made us feel childish for making up stories that helped to cultivate our faith, our ideas, and our understanding. Yet culture is defined and informed by its stories, and it is time to bring back the old ones or make some more.

Laurie Lipton, Pandora's Box
2011, charcoal and pencil
When I think of fantasy art, my mind is filled with purple robed wizards frolicking with faeries and dragons, but that is perhaps my own narrow vision of the word “fantasy,” the etymology of which goes back to “vision, imagination.” So then, let’s establish a new zip code for this Valhalla of the imagination by including: Visionary, Surreal, Magical Realists, the Symbolists, the Grotesque, the Pre-Raphaelites, all the great illustrators who toiled alongside text, odd balls like Bosch, Fuseli, Blake, John Martin, and any old master who ever painted an angel or a demon. This super-genre will include the subjects and themes that are magical, supernatural, mythological, from occultism, mysticism, folklore, or may depict the inner life of the soul or spirit. So why might I want to include all the creatures, demons, monsters, angels, and gods? As an artist, this is where I chose to live. This is what I paint. Artist like Dali and Remedios Varos are my heroes and some of my more recent heroes, like Judith Schaechter and Kris Kuksi are my friends. There are more artists making art with these influences and interests right now than there ever have been. Many of these artist are in the new genre’s of Low Brow and Pop Surrealism who have taken imagery from popular/counter culture and hybrid them with the unexpected.

This work is at the intersection of imagination, creativity, and invention, and what more appropriate time to watch the rise of fantasy than during a recession? Having no money has made us reevaluate our values, and it generates a desire for meaning. What were the old stories, the myths and religion all about? They took the bad, wrong thing that happened and spun a new edit on it that revealed some purpose for the chaos. For many of us, these visions are the language of god and it connects us to our spirituality. I believe that cultivating art and spirituality are essential for cultural renewal and understanding ourselves. When I was growing up with visions, the only books that talked about people who saw visions were in abnormal psychology that said that schizophrenics have visions and magical thinking. So not the place to look for answers as a young artist! It’s so easy to wonder why you are making weird art, and fall into the trap of self-doubt that says I must be crazy. Thankfully, I simply refused to believe it.”

All artwork copyright the respective artist.  Used with permission.