The surrealistic painting style of gallery artist Joan Baldwin’s Unkempt Gardens paintings continue to pull from the colors and scenery of the marshes and paths along the inland waters of Cape Cod. One painting, Blue Moon Man,in particular, is a different, more spontaneous style, consciously pushing the artist out of her comfort zone. It goes against her years of training where she was taught to have everything neat and rendered accurately. Baldwin repainted it several times and finally completed it just before the show. The smaller pieces, which Baldwin identifies as portraits, are new to this body of work. Also pushing Baldwin’s creative comfort is the way that the paintings are installed in the gallery space, with the large and small pieces interspersed.
When asked what inspired this new way of working, Baldwin describes a recent trip to Southern Italy. She was intrigued by all the architectural relics and statuary, but also by the numerous grotesque gargoyles on the churches. One church had 450 gargoyles decorating it to scare away the evil spirits. She wanted to incorporate these strange creatures into her work and put them in different settings. Baldwin wants the audience to see her work as a continuation of what she was doing before, but also notice there is also something new and innovative. She wants people to see areas, in this case the gardens, and imagine how the area itself has evolved felling the spirits that previously occupied the space.
Guest artist Chris Maliga began working on the Lamenting Echo project in 2011. The roughly year-and-a-half period prior to that was extremely difficult for him. He had been dealing with a relapse into mental illness during his final year of college, and had completed his degree while struggling with the aftermath of serious bodily trauma. Maliga’s previous work had involved a distorted depiction of the landscape using a physically demanding process. After the end of that project, he decided to start working exclusively in black-and-white using a larger camera, and started experimenting with using his own figure as part of the image.
Maliga had written about body image issues for his earlier work, but he decided to more directly address the concept visually. He was particularly inspired by the work of Francesca Woodman, as well as Edvard Munch, and how each of them approached difficult circumstances through their art. At the same time, Maliga was reading a lot and feeling a sense of connection with work by Mary Shelley and Virginia Woolf. In particular, Shelley’s vivid depiction of the tortured mental state of her protagonist in Frankenstein was deeply moving. With his own work, he strives to take the viewer through a similar experience.
Maliga acknowledges that the images can be uncomfortable, but it’s a discomfort that most people can likely relate to. He contends that the most beautiful things in the world are also the hardest to look at. The things he finds while photographing feel very temporary to him, as he ventures into places most people would not. Maliga defines his process as a validating experience, because he can share that unusual finding or experience with any number of people who see his photographs.
Joan Baldwin: Unkempt Gardens is on view in the Kingston Main Gallery, Chris Maliga: Lamenting Echo is in the Center Gallery, and Rose and Elizabeth Olson: CURVE STRAIGHT is on view in the Kingston Project Space through December 30, 2018.