Melanie Baker

“Double Knock Out,” 2008
Charcoal and pastel
17”H x 20”W
Courtesy of the artist
Estimated value: $750
Starting bid: $200

Melanie Baker lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. Baker earned her BFA from Pratt Institute and her MFA from Stony Brook University. Baker's artwork has been featured in solo and group exhibitions at many venues around New York City including the Brooklyn Museum, the Jersey City Museum, Roebling Hall and White Box. Baker received a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in 2003 and was named the recipient of the 2003 New York Foundation for Arts Prize. Other grants and fellowships include the Art Omi International Artists' Colony, the Sacatar Foundation in Bahia, Brazil, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace Program, Djerassi Resident Artists’ Program, the Tyrone Guthrie Center at Annaghmakerrig, Ireland, Valparaiso in Mojacar, Spain and Yaddo.

Artist's statement:

"My work is based on images of power; men, in particular, who wield control over others. The drawings in charcoal are necessarily black; for to me the idea of power and control is a mysterious thing, and the velvety black of charcoal creates a void in which there's no indication of what awaits. I look at their surfaces, the skin that's revealed, and the microphones, the important papers, the serious pinstripes. It's this skin that interests me: what it covers up and what it reveals.

For several years I looked solely at American politicians, making cropped portraits of the President and his cabinet. Based on media images, I would sometimes make their faces and hands from newspaper collage, using articles written about their words and actions, as if they were made up of whatever the media tells us about them. I began to look at historical images and artifacts because, although my inquiry is with contemporary manifestation of power, it is rooted in the past. I am particularly interested in symbols, such as the eagle, that are used over and over by those seeking imperial power. Along with symbols there are more concrete ways that the powerful seek to deify themselves and establish sovereignty, such as formal portraits and statues. I find that these historical genres are tied to present-day media images in that, just as we find certain contemporary celebrities iconic, because their image is inescapable, leaders in a pre-photography world had statues erected everywhere to remind the people of their sovereignty, to deify themselves, to secure their immortality. Their stance and gestures, their attire, and their accessories, such as swords and scepters, are all important to make clear their position as rulers.

I am working on a series of drawings looking at statues of these iconic figures. As with my newspaper images, I am again looking at the surfaces: the gestures, the uniforms, accoutrements that are utilized to create the recognizable and incontrovertible image of the man in charge. I intend to examine these figures in order to make connections especially between American examples and those from past empires.

The statue of George Washington- whose ubiquitous countenance signals the beginnings of the current American empire- by John Quincy Adams Ward that stands at Federal Hall is my first subject. The statue drawings are a way for me to get closer to the monumental quality of these iconic figures. The statues themselves afford me a personal confrontation with the man and the image he projects. It is an exciting turn for me, to be at once less removed from my subject - able to be in the same space, walk around it, choose my vantage point, and yet still working within the confines of the formality of the figure’s pose. This formality is a sign of his supremacy- a supremacy which sheer scale alone makes clear- and which I can experience firsthand. This is a considerable shift after working for so many years within the remove of  media images and eventually, art historical ones. It is this personal relationship with the statue that I feel is getting to the crux of my inquiry into the nature of power, the dynamics of sexuality and militarism so much more palpable when confronted in person."


Alwan Auction 2016

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