By Sarah Lehr
Read Baldwin ’84, associate professor of art, has a hole in his house. Two days before his exhibitions Jan. 25 debut in the Gund Gallery, he realized that he couldnt get his six-by-12-foot landscape painting out of his third-floor studio, so he cut a hole in the wall and enlisted the help of a neighbor, Professor of Biology Robert Mauck. Mauck pushed the heavy painting into the arms of Baldwin, who was perched on a three-story ladder.
Mauck had spent time working with smokejumpers people who parachute into remote areas of Alaska to fight fires and he was able to make use of parachuting ropes in order to secure the piece as they lowered it. It didnt feel secure to Baldwin, though. “If at any point [the painting] had slipped and dropped, it would have taken weeks to repair,” he said.
The painting is now hanging safely in the Gallery, where it will remain until March 3, when the exhibition closes. Baldwin has since filled in the hole with plastic and insulation, though, he said, “it still gets a little cold.”
Last Monday evening, Baldwin delivered a lecture in the Gund Gallerys Community Foundation Theater. After opening with an auto-tuned video clip of Bob Ross, he delved into a more serious discussion of the history of landscape painting.
Baldwin said that the long tradition of landscape painting sometimes feels like an artistic burden.
“The real challenge is finding ways to be new and fresh when youre working in a tradition that’s been going on for several hundred years,” he said. “A lot of people have done it really well.”
He also said that it can be difficult to get landscape painting to speak to a contemporary audience. “Our culture is so imbued with digital and photographic media thats glitzier than the stuff I’m doing,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin’s work may not be trendy, but he loves it. “The most fun part is when you’re painting along and all of the sudden it begins to feel real and take shape,” he said. “If I can get to the point in my painting where I can feel that kind of gravitational pull into the space that I’m portraying, that to me is very exciting.”
Baldwin spends years getting to know the spaces he paints. One of his favorite subjects is New Hampshire’s White Mountains. “They have this soft light. Its such an ancient mountain range and everything has become rounded and worn with time,” he said. “I could almost paint those scenes from memory.”
Last semester, Baldwin traveled to Utah to paint Bryce Canyon National Park. Baldwin described working with a new place as an interesting, but uneasy experience.
“I don’t have the internalized knowledge [of Bryce Canyon] that I have of the White Mountains,” he said. “It would take years to develop.”
Baldwin’s love of nature runs deep. “When I was growing up, I did all kinds of nature drawing,” he said. He enrolled at Kenyon with an open mind about what he was going to do with his life, but by graduation he knew that he wanted to be an artist.
Shortly before enrolling in graduate school at Pratt Institute in 1985, Baldwin said that he became absolutely enamored with abstract painting. For around 15 years, he mostly created large abstract works. Two of Baldwins paintings that currently hang in the Village Inn combine abstract and landscape stylings.
“They have little windows of landscapes within much bigger abstract arenas,” he said.
Going forward, Baldwin would love to paint a series capturing four distinct types of North American terrain: the jungles of Mexico and Central America, Mount Washingtons barren summits, Canadian glaciers and the canyons of the Southwestern United States.
“I think America and North America still has so much spectacular unspoiled land and I certainly have huge fears for the future of those lands,” he said. “Part of my desire to paint them is to protect them somehow.”
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