Who and where are you?
I’m Caroline Baker. Sometimes I include my maiden name, Lassovszky because it’s unique – only my parents and brother share this name in the U.S., though sometimes I realize it might be too long a string of letters for anyone to remember. I grew up in the suburbs outside of Washington, D.C., both on the Maryland and Virginia sides of the beltway, though at this point I have spent more of my years in far Southwestern Virginia, which is a very different environment. I started my undergraduate art degree in Radford, Virginia, also started a family and then moved even farther southwest to just outside the town of Pound, Virginia. I was able to complete my degree at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise in 2000. The visual art major had just become available there, so it contrasted in many ways with what I experienced in the more established art department at Radford. After working several graphic design jobs and doing drafting with a small local civil engineering business, I got a Master’s degree in education and taught art in public schools grades K-12 for several years. I have come full circle as I am currently teaching visual arts courses at U.V.A. Wise.
Can you tell us how you combined textile arts with your oil painting?
I have enjoyed working with paint for as long as I can remember. I suppose I was in high school when I started playing around with dyes. I was really just experimenting with the drugstore Rit dyes, making t-shirts for friends and so forth. I was introduced to the fiber reactive MX dyes through a surface design class at Radford and continued to just play with them as a side project separated from painting. When I started stretching my own canvases, the idea that canvas did not necessarily have to remain a two-dimensional object throughout my process interested me, and I liked the aspects akin to watercolor involved in simply staining the canvas with the dyes as a sort of underpainting before stretching the canvas and working with it as an oil painting.
I also find the idea of the support/ground matrix intriguing as this object that changes character so drastically once it is prepared to become a painting, the fact that paintings on canvas began their existence as a textile object, something more associated with craft than the idea of “Art” tied to the description of a painting as “oil on canvas”. There is an element of a cycle of deconstruction/reconstruction involved in processing the canvas to remove sizing and folding it into a three-dimensional object or sewing it only to take it apart and flatten it later. All of the things I do in the beginning of my process are tied to the object as a textile, where as the later stages – stretching, priming, sometimes sanding and going through adding passages in paint involve characteristics of the object as support/ground, which feels very different to me, as though I am enabling and directing this metamorphosis. Recently I began to see parallels in this process with what I observe in the management of the land around me through coal extraction and worked through a series of landscape paintings based on those observations. For instance, the winery and a local site used a a flea market interested me because of the reuse of the land in the continuing cycle heavily influenced and accelerated for good or bad by human intervention. As of late I have found myself moving back in the direction of lyrical abstraction and linking this to my feelings regarding a specific sense of place.
How long does it take you from start to finish to complete one of your canvas dyed paintings?
A lot of times it depends on how much work I need to put into the beginning part of the process and what techniques I decide to use as well as the results with the dyes. If I bind the canvas using a lot of sewing, it takes quite a bit longer. At this point I am relatively sure of the results I will get from the dye stage, but sometimes the results are not what I need and I set it aside for another idea that aligns with the resulting “underpainting” better and start over with a new piece of canvas. Sometimes I continue working with the same canvas by folding or binding again and over dyeing, or using discharge techniques to remove some dye. The minimum amount of time I have spent on a piece like this is three days including time for the wet, dyed canvas to dry, heat setting if I choose to, rinsing, stretching and priming. Many times it depends on how much I want to meld the results of the dye techniques with the painting. I like the idea that both processes become so integrated in the final product that the viewer would need to look for where one is more prominent than the other or the two dovetail. I tend to spend a lot of time working with layering glazes when I paint so that there are areas where both processes work well together and coexist easily on the canvas, though sometimes a piece will call for bringing attention to the contrasting natures of the processes and media as well.
What’s coming next from your studio?
Some of the surface design techniques involved with the dyes lend themselves to repetition and symmetry, and I want to use those qualities in conjunction with the idea that seems to be becoming prevalent in our information-saturated culture that if you repeat something enough times and in the right places, they necessarily become the truth whether they began that way or not, and how subtle shifts in the way things are repeated reinforce or change that perception of something as fact. I want to work with minimization and regulation in the way I work with potentially repeating shapes and forms that result from my process without losing the expressive qualities I think are also important in dealing with cultural content. I plan to return to square format at a larger scale, but I have some ideas for series of things at a small or miniature scale as well.
Thank you Caroline for sharing your process and your art with us today!
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