Chellis Baird is known to push the boundaries of her materials. Working with acrylic, wire, fabrics, and plaster, to name a few of her many tools, Baird creates hybrid paintings that merge into the field of sculpture. In her latest solo show, The Touch of Red, at The National Arts Club, Baird explores the complex symbolism and visual richness of the color red. Her work titles mirror this intention with references to love and seduction, such as Lady Danger, Pout, and Flirt. Recalling lust, anger, and fervor, Baird’s works are as layered with significance as they are visually captivating.
Part painting, part sculpture, Baird’s style is instantly recognizable. Her dedication to exploring techniques and mediums is almost meditative. She consistently challenges herself to take each material further, stretching, pulling, and twisting to create pieces that defy formal classification. To say the surface of her works is textured would be an understatement. Her surfaces are the texture. There is no evidence of a flat plane upon which she builds. Rather, her creations seem to somehow emerge from the front, back, and sides of each piece.
Welcoming the viewer to the exhibition space is Everlasting Red, the largest work in the show that appears like a monument to the color red. Vertical layers and strips of vibrant red flow across the surface and pull the eye in. Towards the bottom of the piece, a series of knots and bumps begins to emerge like the hem of a billowing dress.
Nearby is one of the most striking works in the show, Lady Danger, which borrows its name from Baird’s signature Mac lipstick shade. The surface of Lady Danger is tight like latex with strips of red bursting out of a long, twisted knot. Ropes weave in and out of the work, recalling bondage. The piece exudes seduction, passion, and even anger.
Lady Danger is part of a series of three, which are some of the only pieces in the show that are framed. The addition of the frames immediately brought to mind the assemblages of Joseph Cornell and his avant-garde, mixed media collages encased in small boxes. As with Cornell’s works, Baird’s series has a strong sense of three-dimensionality and objecthood.
The frame on Lady Danger III has a gold leaf finish, lending the piece the feeling of an altar. The small size of the work is intimate, like a personal shrine to the color red. Baird’s use of gold recalls rich Byzantine mosaics and religious icon paintings. Even the color red can be seen as a reference to the red carpets commonly used in churches, adding yet another layer of complex symbolism to the work.
Gold also appears in Serpentine along the edges of the thick, undulating folds. As the title suggests, the work resembles a sinuous, snaking path of twisting red plaster. A nod to the Garden of Eden, the work points to the association of the color red with lust and temptation. The thick folds of the surface and the addition of gold bring to mind luxurious textiles, like the folds of heavy velvet. An edition of 10, Serpentine also appears in a white plaster version and a bonded aluminum cast in the show.
At times, Baird’s work recalls that of Analia Saban, the Argentinian conceptual artist who, like Baird, breaks down and reframes the definition of a painting. The similarities come through with Saban’s stunning pieces in which she weaves dried paint through the canvas. The result is a painting that has not been painted. References to weaving are seen throughout Baird’s work. In Smile, thin, ribbon-like strips of red are draped and interlaced across the surface. These hints of weaving add a strong performative element to her practice as the materials dip and dive across and underneath one another. It’s impossible to look at Baird’s work and not envision her working with the materials.
As a concept, The Touch of Red might seem straightforward, even simple, yet Baird’s treatment of the color red and her ability to defy the limits of the materials and techniques she employs takes the show to a new level. Baird makes red a color, form, and material. She pushes and pulls, weaves and drapes, and propels the boundaries of her own work. Each piece is surprisingly different with unique forms and sentiments. The Touch of Red is both an homage to the color red and a testament to Baird’s mastery of an art form of her own.
Chellis Baird: The Touch of Red is on view through April 8th at The National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South.
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Writer, Cultbytes Annabel Keenan is a New York-based writer and art advisor. As a writer, she focuses on contemporary art, market reporting, and sustainability. Her writing has been published in The Art Newspaper, and Artillery Magazine among others. Keenan has worked in several major museums and galleries worldwide, including the Broad Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the printmaking studio Gemini G.E.L.. As an advisor, Keenan specializes in prints and multiples, and aims to make the process of collecting art more accessible. She holds a B.A. in Art History and Italian from Emory University and an M.A. in Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture from the Bard Graduate Center. l igram l email l