Baker Prints on Leaves Found
In Streets, Parks of Brooklyn
By Beth C. Aplin
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
PROSPECT PARK ‚Äď It all began about seven months ago on a crisp fall day. Jessica Baker, a Brooklyn resident for the past 15 years and a printmaker by training, was walking along a leaf-strewn street. She bent over, picked one up and thought, ‚ÄúI wonder what would happen if I printed on a leaf?‚ÄĚ
The result is ‚ÄúLeaf and Circle,‚ÄĚ an exhibition of approximately 20 works that give new life to fallen leaves gathered on the streets and in the parks of Brooklyn. In some artworks, the leaves are like a one-of-a-kind piece of paper containing a variety of Baker‚Äôs detailed, circular prints. In others, the leaves are unadorned by ink etchings but arranged in a pattern that highlights repetition as well as the leaf‚Äôs singular beauty.
When asked if this project was influenced by the work of any other artists, Baker, who lives in Borough Park and has a studio in Clinton Hill, had a very straightforward answer.
‚ÄúI‚Äôd love to give you glorious references, but there aren‚Äôt any,‚ÄĚ she replied. ‚ÄúThis process was very intuitive. I didn‚Äôt think; I was in the mode of ‚Äėjust do.‚Äô That‚Äôs the best way to make art.‚ÄĚ
Wearing a navy blue T-shirt and comfortable shoes and carrying a backpack, Baker looked the part of a naturalist when she met this reporter on a busy Thursday at Prospect Park‚Äôs Audubon Center, where ‚ÄúLeaf and Circle‚ÄĚ is on display through May 26.
The Audubon Center is far from a traditional gallery space. Housed in Prospect Park‚Äôs Beaux Arts Boathouse, the Audubon Center is home to the Park‚Äôs environmental education initiatives as well as its visitor‚Äôs center. On weekdays, school groups watch films and participate in hands-on activities in the same second-floor space that holds ‚ÄúLeaf and Circle.‚ÄĚ
In many ways, the exhibition complements the Audubon Center‚Äôs mission of exploring the natural world via interactive tools. Baker‚Äôs largest work, ‚ÄúMultiple Leaf Print Arrangement,‚ÄĚ contains circular etchings and monoprints on over 80 leaves; the Audubon staff has assembled a handout that labels each leaf by tree type, from ginkgo to shingle oak to sugar maple and beyond.
Baker is pleased with the nontraditional setting: hundreds of visitors stream through the Audubon Center every week, and she likes that viewers have the rare opportunity to look at her leaf-laden creations and then gaze out the windows of the historic Boathouse, onto the pond and the park‚Äôs lush spring landscape.
‚Äú[The exhibition] is out amongst the people, in its proper place,‚ÄĚ she said with a smile.
A Self-Taught Artist
After viewing the exhibition, we head outside to the patio, where scores of parents and strollers have gathered to enjoy the warm weather. Baker has a bachelor‚Äôs degree in Art History from the University of Rochester, and she calls herself a ‚Äúpretty much self-taught‚ÄĚ artist. (To support her art and help pay her bills, she has a part-time job at a corporation in Lower Manhattan.)
Originally a painter, Baker took a class in 2004 in non-toxic etching at the Women‚Äôs Studio Workshop in Rosendale, N.Y. She ‚Äúfell in love‚ÄĚ with the process and won a fellowship in etching at the studio the following year.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt really call myself a painter anymore,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúDrawing, etching and printmaking feels very complete.‚ÄĚ
Though she didn‚Äôt intend it, ‚ÄúLeaf and Circle‚ÄĚ marks a departure from the more formal printmaking techniques that Baker has hewed to in the past. Using natural elements instead of expensive, archival paper means that her art won‚Äôt last forever. But for Baker, that has become part of the appeal ‚ÄĒ for environmental, aesthetic and practical reasons.
Environmentally, she is glad to be able to incorporate reusable materials in printmaking ‚ÄĒ a technique that, she points out, is not the greenest of methods.
The impermanence of those natural materials then feeds into the art itself. As Baker writes in her artist statement, ‚ÄúA leaf that has fallen from a tree in November captures a moment in the growth and life cycle of a tree, and the transient beauty inherent in the inexorable march of the leaf from birth to death.‚ÄĚ
And then, of course, is the very practical matter of space and storage, especially in a rent-frenzy city like Brooklyn.
‚ÄúArtists produce so much in a lifetime,‚ÄĚ she mused. ‚ÄúWhat are you going to do with it all?‚ÄĚ
¬© Brooklyn Daily Eagle 2008
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