January 24, 2013

Thin and thick: Mario Naves and Brett Baker

At Elizabeth Harris Gallery, Mario Naves has the front room and Brett Baker, publisher of Painter's Table, has the back. Two years ago, after making collages for twenty years, Naves turned to painting larger geometric abstractions on canvas. His buoyant compositional strategies recall those of his earlier collages, but the smoothly painted, unified surfaces and saturated color of his new work evoke the Indian and Persian miniatures and the 16th-century Netherlandish paintings that Naves considers touchstones.

Mario Naves, Obscure Reference, 2012, acrylic and oil on canvas on wood, 24 x 20 inches

Where Naves paints thin and elegantly hard edge, keeping his lively images on the surface, Baker goes thick and clotty, creating small-scale blocks of abstraction, seemingly squeezed directly from the tube. Baker's paintings are darker and more obsessive than Naves, and they suggest that he is entertaining a philosophical question, trying to convince himself that, despite all practical evidence to the contrary, meaning resides in the process. And so he continues--we all do. The key may be in the painting pictured below, titled Sisyphus (After Camus).

Brett Baker, Sisyphus (after Camus), 2008-2011, oil on canvas, 6 x 6 inches.

A quick Google search of the title turned up the website for the Albert Camus Society, where I learned that, in 1942, Camus published a book of essays called The Myth of Sisyphus. In 2011, Svenja Schrahé, in an essay about the book, wrote that
Sisyphus was one of the wisest men on earth, extremely skilled in trickery and the founder of Corinth. After deceiving the gods, Zeus banished him into Tartarus, a prison-like waste land beneath the underworld. Here, Sisyphus endlessly rolls a rock up a hill, just to have it roll back to start anew. A Sisyphean task became synonymous with senseless work that man has to do nowadays. From the beginning on it is the very clear tone of the book, that the value of life is the most important issue.
All other themes resolve about the question of suicide, mortality and faith. The term ‘faith' is burdened with a heavy religious meaning, but for the French writer it is not a matter of one believes in God or not, but rather to believe in oneself. Camus examines how an honest affirmation of life can come into existence without pinning it down to external influences. It is life that matters, the pure ability to be part of this world...
Or, in the language of painting, process and materiality.

 "Mario Naves: Recent Paintings " Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York, NY. Through February 2, 2013.
"Brett Baker: Paintings," Elizabeth Harris, New York, NY. Through February 2, 2012.

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