Last Friday, September 16th, we celebrated the opening of Donald Baechler’s show ‘New Works’ at our friends of Reflex Amsterdam. Of course we were able to get a sneak peek before the opening by looking across the road, but to see the show completely finished in all its glory was truly something special.
Pop Art and New York in the 1980s
Donald Baechler made his name in the 1980s showing his work legendary Tony Shafrazi Gallery with a group of artists that included Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat. And in those years, he also met one other icon of modern art: Andy Warhol. The master of Pop Art even made a series of portrats of the young Donald Baechler.
One will immediately recognize the iconography of the Pop Art we all know. We see everyday products re-worked, repeated or re-scaled. Baechler’s also uses flowers, skulls and globes, other familiar icons of art history. But these icons are only a starting point of multi-layered body of work.
In fact, it is a deceptive simplicity. Behind it, a much more complex method of working is revealed, as well as a philosophy that shows a deep understanding of art history. His influencers are manifold, ranging from Giotto to the abstract expressionists to American folk art and Cy Twonbly. However, Baechler has also described himself as a formalist – putting line and form above narrative meaning: ‘his work has an artistic language of its own, a visual syntax that merits close study. The viewer is invited to excavate each work, layer by layer – a richly rewarding experience,’ the show’s announcement reads.
The artistic process of Donald Baechler
Between these powerful, yet delicate and layered works on canvas or paper, however, a series of studies for the works has been put on display. These black and white drawings stand out because of their subtlety and give the viewer an intimate insight in the working process of Donald Baechler. Perhaps following the artistic mind in the first steps of this process holds the key to discover the underlying message of the work. Is the pattern or the figure that is drawn first also the most important of the painting or collage? Naturally, every layer holds importance. But the studies feel like the ultimate deconstruction of the larger works.
On the complete opposite of this spectrum the gallery also shows a very large work titled ‘Fertile Ground’. Measuring roughly 2 by 2,5 meters, this acrylic and fabric collage on canvas epitomizes the journey from blank surface to work of art. And this journey is never a smooth or simple one for Donald Baechler, as he explained himself: ‘One reason I build my surfaces up is because I don’t really want to know what the line is going to do. I want this built-in fracture; when I drag the brush along the canvas, I don’t want it to be a smooth, easy voyage – I want some problems along the way.’
In the background of the main horse figure one can see several of the figures that recur in the other works on show, while the use of fabric provides a relief and dynamism to that same background. It is, in short, a very fertile ground from which the main figure emerges, making the work a perfect focal point of the exhibition.
‘New Works’ by Donald Baechler is on view until November 15, so we highly recommend to visit the gallery at Weteringschans 79a in Amsterdam. To coincide with the exhibition Reflex Amsterdam has published a book, which will be added to our web shop soon.