The Only Paradise is Paradise Lost, 2004-2007
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.
My work is based on images of power; men, in particular, who wield control over others. 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. 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. For several years I looked solely at American politicians, making cropped portraits of the President and his cabinet. 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. My current focus is on financial titans, juxtaposing robber barons of the 19th century with today’s “economic planners”.