I work in charcoal for the power of the blackness; the deep, endless space it can represent. It is the void that will suck you in, without any indication of what awaits. My work is based on images of power; people who wield control over others. I attempt to investigate the surfaces; of them and their paraphernalia- the instantly recognizable trappings of power. I eliminate as much visual information as possible, to focus on the extraordinary power that’s conferred upon certain men, and objects. These symbols seem imbued with a sanctity that shores up their right to their position. It is a study that’s both political and personal. They are another species to me, one that attracts and repels: a desire to get beneath the skin of something to which I have no access. It’s this skin that interests me: what it covers up and what it reveals.
In the recent past, my drawings were focused solely on American government officials. Now I’m focused on historical images from other empires. Napoleon manifested sovereignty through deliberately chosen symbols, such as the Roman eagle; symbols that imply an eternal quality to those who wield them. The idea of transformation of man and/or symbol into deity is essential for the nature of empire, and visual imagery was (and still is!) used to disseminate and reinforce the values of the republic.
The aesthetic aspect of art is, for me, the emotional hook, which seduces the viewer, draws them in and makes them want to stay. One might be uncomfortable, but the power of the work relies on this ability to insist the viewer keep looking. That power is often elusive and difficult to define, just as is the seductive power of the political and the personal. I believe visual art must retain something inexplicable to sustain itself- an ambivalence, a teetering imbalance between attraction and revulsion, a dip in the muddy waters to look for treasure.
Artist Bio / CV
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Melanie Baker attended Pratt Institute and graduated in 1977. She earned her MFA from Stony Brook University in 2001.
Baker’s artwork has been featured in solo and group exhibitions at venues around New York City including Roebling Hall, White Box, van Brunt galleries; EBEC Galeria de Arte, Salvador, Brazil, the Staller Center for the Arts, the Jersey City Museum, Tatar gallery, Toronto, Canada, and the Long Island Museum. Her most recent solo show, Apotheosis, was at Roebling Hall in April 2008. She was included in “Open House: Working in Brooklyn” at the Brooklyn Museum in 2004. Her large-scale charcoal and collage drawings have been featured in Harper’s magazine and the Daily News. Her work was included in the Albany University Museum’s “Mr. President” (2007) and Weslyan University's Disasters of War: From Goya to Golub (2005).
Baker received a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship in 2003 and was named the recipient of the 2003 New York Foundation for the Arts Prize, awarded to one fellow across all disciplines. Other grants and residencies include the Art Omi International Arts Center (2001), the Henry Street Settlement’s workspace program (2002), the Sacatar Foundation in Bahia, Brazil (2003), the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace program (2004) the Djerassi Foundation and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland (2005), Valparaiso in Mojacar, Spain (2008) and the Corporation of Yaddo (2006 and 2008).