blake baxter

"Staring Into the Void", ARTPatron Palm Springs, January 2018
written by Grove Koger

Blake Baxter’s January solo shows at Joshua Tree Art Gallery and D’Amour Concept present a series of monochromatic, sand-based paintings in which black is the only paint color. All the other hues you see as you stand before his mesmerizing works are inherent in the primary media—various forms of prepared sand. Look more closely and you’ll realize that the paintings’ surfaces register gentle changes, most of them created by the available light.
Baxter tells Art Patron that he spends about 90 percent of his time in preparation. “When creating works, I follow a series of sequenced steps, layering polymer, sand and acrylic washes, during short intervals of only a few minutes or less. I stop well before the materials begin to set up or dry, and allow each layer to completely cure before applying the next. So I spend considerable time preparing the workspace, tools, surface and materials. Once a step is completed, the workspace may be changed again. This requires a patient mindset, calm and free of distractions.”

The means Baxter deploys in creating his paintings—“color, geometry, texture, reflectivity, size”—are as minimal as his materials. “I have a good idea of what I am trying to create with any individual piece, making studies and drawings beforehand. However, each work yields some type of lesson or unanticipated effect that will inform subsequent action, such that the body of work as a whole moves in directions I do not anticipate and only partially control. The finished pieces are a record of these processes.”

Baxter hopes to engage his viewers in a kind of transcendent experience. “Afforded sufficient time,” he explains, his paintings “become machines that generate focal awareness, allowing one the opportunity to explore the complex relationship between transient modes of existence (form) and the inevitable manifestation of nothingness (void).

“These are exercises in the interpretative power of consciousness,” the artist continues, “providing viewers a pathway towards separation from the mundane through a mediated process of observation.”

Baxter was born in Los Angeles and earned a BA in Fine Art from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He was an exhibiting member of the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition and has shown widely, from Oakland to New York City and from Chicago to Los Angeles. Over the past decade, he has established a reputation for his large-scale paintings incorporating aggregates such as sand, coal slag, and diatomaceous earth. Baxter now makes his home in Joshua Tree, and participated in last year’s Hwy 62 Art Tour.

Artist's Statement: HWY 62 Art Tours 2017
"For this year's Hwy 62 Art Tours, I will have over thirty paintings on display, primarily from the Black Painting Series and featuring work from the Four Gates subset. The Black Painting Series is a group of sand-based paintings in which black is the only paint color used. All other colors are natural to the materials (different types of prepared sand). These surfaces evidence gentle changes, monochromatic with subtle depths-of-field that become more evident the longer one observes. The Four Gates subset is part of the Black Painting Series. Each piece is comprised of multiples canvases arranged along both the X and Y axes: four directions around a central monochrome. Each direction represents a gateway to and from worldly attachment, with the center panel representing the “no mind” of universal consciousness. These works are Minimalist and Modernist. Sides are treated black resulting in dark boundaries that contrast sharply against background, creating bold lines that divert attention outward to one’s environment, both natural and architectural, while at the same time mapping one’s personal journey towards the void."

Artist's Biography: "Eyes of March" Joshua Tree Art Gallery (2017)
Blake Baxter is best known for large-scale, monochromatic paintings incorporating aggregates such as sand, coal slag, and diatomaceous earth. Blake was born in Los Angeles, and received his BA in Fine Art from UCSC. He has exhibited work in Oakland, Tacoma, Seattle, Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles, and was an exhibiting member of the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition. He lives today in Joshua Tree, CA.

“These pieces are constructed with minimal materials: washed sand, acrylic paint, polymer, & varnish. I follow a repeatable process of sequenced steps that yields variation regardless of my efforts to minimize the same. This variety evidences a reliable pattern of change. The result is a communication of unstructured data, which, when met by perception, seeks to establish form. The values in the data, like the materials, are minimal: color, geometric composition, texture, reflectivity, size. Defining the relationship of these values requires some interpretative consideration. One might see a single piece recreated over and over, or individual pieces grouped by common values (whole field vs. broken field compositions, for example), or wholly unique objects defined by their relative distances from each other in time and space. As such, these are exercises in the interpretative power of consciousness; through mindful observation, one might be left to question the supposition that seeing is indeed believing.” 

Artist's Statement: Vanishing Point (2014)
"To witness a painting live is to be in the presence of a highly available stream of data that constructs, within the mind of the viewer, a dialogical arena from which new information is generated, while at the same time existing as an artifact of the event that created the source data's original generative mechanism. Therefore, we are able to perceive two related, yet distinct, contexts in which information is both created and transferred to the viewer.

A well-constructed piece of art embodies an inherent power to navigate around a viewer's psychological resistance to empathy, resolving conflict while preserving a multitude of seemingly untenable counter-positions, in order to establish networked systems of information that encourage holistic investigation through outlines of nonlinear potentiality and discursive thought.

The information available in painting is self actualizing within every sub-millisecond, persistently recreating itself so quickly as to become indistinguishable from solid. Wholly without dependence on original source, the material data that is a painting, as long as it is physically intact, is perpetually resistant to obfuscation." 

Review: Crazy Horse (2011)
Blake Baxter's recent body of work continues his investigation of concrete as a material for abstract painting. In the paintings, the stains, oxidization and mineral deposits that we see in the unattended spaces of contemporary architecture are re-contextualized and formed into large panels that engulf the viewer's field of vision. This work suggests the influence of American Transcendentalist tradition in its use of the everyday to generate heightened states of awareness and shows a diversity of influences in this vein.

The work "Crazy Horse" (2011) uses a familiar Mark Rothko format to invoke Neil Young's most famous band in a tribute to the use of simple methods to creating throttling physical effects on the audience. The titles of other works, "Rosebud", "Nocturne", "Sand Creek", proffer a dual narrative, referencing real events in the life of the Sioux warrior after whom Young's band was named, while simultaneously connecting to familiar Romantic ideas about nature.

The works themselves create immersive visual, and sensory experiences more likely to be found beneath a neglected urban overpass. This mediation between Nature and the world as experienced locates the real intention of these paintings as generators of focused visual attention and tactile awareness. Independent of their sources in the city, or their precedents in abstraction and philosophy, they are constructions made from everyday material with the intention to separate the viewer from the mundane.