Friday, September 21, 2012
New 100-foot mural “RE:DEFINEs” Dallas cityscape
Artist Lee Baker was commissioned by The Joule Hotel in conjunction with an art event called RE:DEFINE at the Goss-Michael Foundation.
DALLAS Amidst scaffolds, cascading dust, and the cacophony of jackhammers, Lee Baker has inexplicably found a way to create among overwhelming architectural destruction. “On loan” from Brighton, England, he is currently putting the finishing touches on a massive, 100-foot public art installation, a mural stretching the length of the pedestrian walkway that connects Main and Elm streets along a “temporary fascia lining the deconstruction of the Old Praetorian Building.”
Commissioned by The Joule Hotel as part of its sponsorship of RE:DEFINE -- an ongoing exhibition, charity auction, and gala by The Goss-Michael Foundation and benefiting MTV’s Staying Alive Foundation -- the mural pushes RE:DEFINE out of the gallery and into the very heart of the Dallas cityscape.
Baker could not seem more fitting for such a project. His work has increasingly focused on monolithic architectural design in the face of impending natural disaster. So far, Tokyo has proven a valuable study – he was there just prior to the crushing 2011 tsunami – and the work it inspired has informed and influenced the style behind much of his most recent work. Known for its iconic skyline, Dallas has sparked yet another facet in this overarching artistic project.
“The night I got in, I walked around the city and I was struck by the way the sunset was glinting off of the buildings,” Lee said. “I found new inspiration and stayed up until about 4 a.m. reworking my original plan.”
Jeans splattered with a bright spectrum of paint, Baker’s eyelashes and beard were dusted with blue from the morning’s efforts. In order to complete the 12-day installation by the Goss-Michael’s gala and auction on Saturday, he has been working on average 15 hours per day.
“The Joule has been incredible,” he said. “It’s not often I can just wake up and walk across the street and get to work. It’s hard work, but it’s not really ‘work,’ you know.”
Working before the constant flow of downtown pedestrians, Baker said that Dallasites have been enthusiastic and engaged, but notably polite. “Lots of people have stopped by and been interested – it’s been great having that energy – but, most everyone asks a quick question or says something nice and then moves along without being too much of a distraction. The environment has been totally positive. Couldn’t be better.”
With a fine art degree from Newcastle University, Baker is widely known in the UK as a music producer who has written for almost every major production company and for his work producing James’ top 10 album, Hey Ma. He has also installed public art projects in a handful of international cities in addition to studio exhibitions, many of which were curated by The Future Tense, an international organization that has worked closely MTV’s Staying Alive Foundation to curate both this year’s and last year’s inaugural exhibition at Goss-Michael.
“I started out painting old cars in junkyards,” Baker said. “So, I like chances to get back outside and onto the street. Not everyone wants to or can go into a sterile environment or a sterile gallery. You’re only going to reach so many people that way. Outside, people learn that they need art. It’s crazy – in this world of technology, paint on a wall still has the ability to prickle our senses. To make us excited and interested.”
“Interesting” seems an appropriate word for Baker’s work. His city paintings mix geometric lines, representing manmade buildings and structures, with curving black swirls to represent ominous – but beautiful – natural elements. Sunset is a recurring theme and the idea of a coming storm: aesthetically beautiful black clouds swooping in over an otherwise gorgeously painted sky. Using mostly bright, even neon, colors, his style might be described as “psychedelic futurism,” as if Isaac Asimov were to design a Jimi Hendrix album cover.
But, Baker is quick to clarify that he is not part of a “movement.” Nor is his work intentionally or heavily political. “Dallas projects a real aggressive power,” he said. “And, so I’m interested in the idea of that power against even greater natural forces. But, I’m not here to make some big political statement. Those are merely ideas that I find interesting and that inspire new work. I’d very much like to come back and do a larger study of Dallas like I’ve done with Tokyo.”
Back home, Baker has been working with the idea of actually painting on buildings, themselves; there, his black clouds are cropping up straight out of them as if they are growing organically like ivy. It’s the idea that, if humanity were to suddenly disappear, nature would start creeping in through the cracks almost immediately, subsuming the monolithic structures we have so hubristically constructed.
Downtown, his mural does much the same – it springs from chaos, though in this case, that discord is man made rather than natural. With sharp, straight lines of graduating shades of pink that make up a sunset on a long horizon and Baker’s ever-present dark swirls, it is a stark, contrasting view of the beautifully-designed and “aggressively powerful” city from a distance. Set internally among what is currently – though temporarily – an architectural breakdown, it juxtaposes the city’s grandeur with downtown’s structural flux. The Joule Hotel renovation is scheduled for completion in early 2013, and its reemergence will encompass the sort of luxurious urbanity upon which Dallas bases its reputation. The remnants of Baker’s mural will remain a quiet reminder, subsumed within the renovation, of an illustrious city and, on a deeper level, humanity’s explicit strength and tacit vulnerability.
An additional painting by Baker is on exhibition at the Goss-Michael Foundation for the MTV RE:DEFINE event. His and the works of 29 other international artists – including Michael Craig-Martin, Gérard Rancinan, and Ryan McGinness – will be auctioned off at a VIP gala on Saturday, September 22. All proceeds will go toward AIDS awareness and empowerment through the Staying Alive Foundation. For those unable to attend, there will be absentee bidding.
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