Report from L.A. – Charming Baker “Lie Down I Think I Love You”
“LIE DOWN I THINK I LOVE YOU”
LOS ANGELES 22 – 24 MARCH, 2013
IS BAKER ALL THAT CHARMING?
There are two ways an artist comes to Los Angeles, either chasing a dream or living one. The former arrives by way of car, bus, or economy seating and the latter flies in first class.
On March 21st, with a gigantic snow-white model jet-liner suspended over his first L.A. show, the irony could have been purely coincidental (or not); but one thing was abundantly clear: Charming Baker had “arrived”.
Yet, amidst the “could-be” symbolism with a huge plane pristinely hovering over his show, or its mini-me version suspended inside commemorative snow-globes, something seemed a little off balance. The plane is upside down, with its pilot, presumably, flying by the seat of his pants. Or maybe the plane is right side up and the world is upside down? Welcome to Los Angeles, Mr. Baker. Or may we just call you, ‘Charming’?
For good or for ill, the LA mantra is “bigger is better” or “less is less”; and we’ve never done subtle very well. So, the mix of paintings, prints and sculpture unveiled at a VIP event at Milk Studios — a cavernous stage used for oversize photo shoots rather than displaying art — Charming Baker’s “Lie Down I Think I Love You” show lit up L.A.’s art scene. Packed with a combination of Hollywood glitterati, art lovers, hipsters, and collectors; the art scene wattage was palpable. Accompanied by a screen-printing lab, a live DJ, great bar and a not so subtle feeling the English were planting a flag firmly in the City of Angels. Ensuring no-one left empty handed; giveaways included an eclectic CD mash-up of Charming’s favourite sounds-to-paint-by, badges, stickers and posters.
Unlike most, this art show was not installed to run for a month. Instead, it opened on a Friday and would close on a Sunday; pushing viewers to commit to it, rather than meander in when convenient. Urgency is good. For me at least, this dynamic approach to the experience is extremely positive.
LA does love a party, and when the host is as charming as…well, Charming, it’s hard not to become enamored, even if somewhat skeptical; after all we also do “jaded” rather well here, too.
This is the town where dreams are more often than not methodically manufactured, rather than grown organically (despite what the packaging says). Additionally, it’s hard to ignore he has the backing of both art royalty and a remarkably well-choreographed team of managers. The work is intriguing, but I left with more questions than answers: Why blow holes through paintings with a shotgun, if not for effect? Why take an exquisitely proportioned, classically posed figurine sculpture and bolt a metallic airplane nose cone to it?
I left the event both intrigued, yet vexed by symbolism. Charming merited a second look. This time without the pomp, glitz or colourful cocktails.
With a gallery bathed in natural daylight and enough room for the pieces to breathe, it became possible to absorb and study Charming’s composition and technique. The size of each painting more apparent, the temperate environment adding to the peacefulness of their surroundings; I found myself drawn back to many of the images over and over again, each time picking up a subtlety I had missed before.
Baker’s rag to riches provenance is well documented. Leaving school at 16, then back to college three years later, at which point he was accepted into Central St. Martins Art School. His career started as a commercial artist, returning to lecture for a while at St. Martins, until his personal work was discovered, and his subsequent journey as a fine artist began in earnest. In his early days, Baker would use whatever he could find as tableau, irrespective of the surface condition or material. Now, revisiting his images in detail, the inclusion of holes, slashes and carving suggest a subconscious safety blanket. A way the artist returns to the relative anonymity of his past and the challenge of creating with limited resources.
His humor is dark, images unsettling. A variety of subjects ranging from small dogs to discarded children’s toys; almost mundane in their selection. But with each image, there are layers of uncertainty, beautifully at odds with the comfortably familiar flock wallpaper backdrop. His brushwork is delicate and definite. Minimal colour palettes are selected to ensure the placement of each draws the viewer’s eye into the subject. Additional pencil or chalk lines are visible, adding dynamism and movement to the image. His understanding of anatomy and form underlines the realism, which is then meticulously shredded by the choice of environment, pose or composition. Baker’s world teasingly pushes emotional buttons, at the same time inviting the viewer to challenge intellectual understanding.
The show also included a number of drawings, which added to the roadmap of discovery. Any opportunity to spend time looking at an artist’s sketchbook is a way to gain insight otherwise obscured. They are a diary of thoughts, process, ideas that may or may not come to fruition; and the selection of work included in the show did not disappoint. This man can draw…really, really.
The afternoon expanded into a conversation with Charming; which confirmed hi chosen brush-name as it were, may have been more of a pub born sobriquet than marketing device. No matter the subject, he’s eloquently passionate, inspiring, funny, very honest and genuinely likeable. As we talked, I mentioned the titles for his paintings like “I Miss The Person I Wanted You To Be”, “I’m Sorry You Can’t Move On Because I Never Said I’m Sorry” and It is My Heartfelt Desire to Improve But I Never Do”.
Each stands as much on its own merits as a companion to the artwork; and in many instances hits like a philosophical brick. His explanation: We all experience the same things, we’re all on the same journey, we’re all ultimately…Alone. This was the tipping point. The invitation to lie down is really one to walk awhile, and see the world through his eyes; find solace, pleasure or maybe pain in the realization being alone does not mean lonely; and every journey is worth taking.
Of all the questions I’d started with, the loudest had been, “Is Charming Baker really all that?”
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