Carrie Ann Baade: From the Autobiographical to the Universal
Inspired by literature and art history, Carrie Ann Baade is an internationally renowned artist whose surreal oil paintings are rich with allegorical meta-narratives. Her art has been exhibited nationally and internationally, with various books and journals prominently featuring her works. She has traveled all over the world studying her craft and currently lives in Tallahassee, Florida.
I am attracted to symbolism as used in art history, and I have a great respect for the power of both narrative and figurative imagery. Yet in the twentieth century, many leading artists tended to reject both the figure and the narrative, and some theorists argued that painting was dead, with nothing more to say. I took this very personally. So, I began to collect photocopies of obscure Renaissance paintings. By cutting up these paintings and using them to create collages, I combined the power of these historical masterworks with my own experience as a contemporary artist. Using this fragmentary “bone yard,” I took historical images that appeared banal or meaningless and breathed new life, my life, into them.
I do believe I am a “visionary” because I see the complete image in my mind. By holding this image in my mind, I find the source material needed to construct the vision in reality. In a sense, it is like reverse engineering—starting with the end result, then finding my way back to the beginning. Even though copyright issues don’t apply to artworks that are five hundred years old, I was initially very cautious about using historical sources. However, I soon realized that they had been utterly transformed by their compositional and conceptual context. I could use anything. I was free to create.
The Bride Stripping the Bachelors Bare is comprised of red Madonnas who have been cut up and combined into a single figure. I decided to reference Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Being Stripped Bare by the Bachelors Even, which deals in part with ` male and female lust from a man’s point of view. The title is remixed to emphasize the female point of view.
First, to form the composition, I completed a prototype collage of layered scraps with cut edges, (p.1). From this collage, I paint an oil painting using old master techniques. Trompe l'oeil is a style, which means, "to fool the eye." In this case, it is fooling the viewer into believing that the image might in fact be a collage instead of an oil painting. I love the chaos of the cut and tape collage method; and then, painting the final product in a careful and painstaking manner. Some of these are photographs of me while others are derived from historical paintings and prints. Next, I created an ink under-drawing based on the collage. The multiple layers with cut edges are not intended to make a harmonious synthesis—instead, the fragments suggest the complexity of individual psychology. We see the exposed masks and concealed secrets. Finally, to create the visually rich effects, I build the image on top of the drawing using layer after layer of oil paint.
P1, Collage, The Bride Stripping the Bachelors Bare, 2008.
P2 Ink Under-painting, The Bride Stripping the Bachelors Bare, 2008.
Figure 3 Oil Glazes for Painting, The Bride Stripping the Bachelors Bare, 2008.
Figure 4 Completed Painting, The Bride Stripping the Bachelors Bare, 2008.
NOTES TO YOUNG ARTISTS
“Passion has little to do with euphoria and everything to do with patience. It is not about feeling good. It is about endurance. Like patience, passion comes from the same Latin root: pati. It does not mean to flow with exuberance. It means to suffer.” ― Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves
Q: What's been the most difficult part of being an artist?
A: Alice Neel said "You should keep on painting no matter how difficult it is, because this is all part of experience, and the more experience you have, the better it is... unless it kills you, and then you know you have gone too far." I enjoy this process. I must. I made many sacrifices to do this work. I was willing to challenge my health, my sanity, my employment, my relationships, my comfort, my credit, and piss off my cat for the opportunity to make paintings. I don’t actually suggest anyone DO THIS. I hope you are smarter than me and that you can paint…and have ALL OF IT. Everything. The choices I made seem worthwhile now because they brought me to where I am today: grateful and ready to paint more.
Q: Do you think every artist seeks notoriety?
A: I cannot speak for anyone else; however, it is in my best interest to promote my work, so that I may survive. What have I got to lose but my anonymity!? Fame is an interesting thing. One can be famous and that may not mean that you have any money coming in from this recognition. One must be a savvy businessperson to make a living off their art, talent, their face, and/or their name. If the public knows who you are, it could help your career,. It could be infamy or ridicule.
Q: How difficult do you think that is? I mean, having a successful career?
A: Go read Rilke if you want sympathy about how difficult this is. I wanted my time back from reading his Letters To A Young Poet. The meaningful thing I took from his book is:
Irony: Don't let yourself be controlled by it, especially during uncreative moments.
I interpreted this to mean: don’t let the irony get to you. Life has a way of laughing at your unhappiness when you are trying your hardest. Perhaps the most ironic part of being an artist is that no one prepares you for HOW MUCH self-confidence it takes to do what you love. You must believe in you. Confidence is those hours throwing pottery or laying in paint
The advice I give my students, is this: If you can be happy making a living doing something else...you better go do that. If you have no choice, if this is what you are, then god love you, but you can do it! (However, just to be safe, I tell them they better have another skill to fall back on....mine was being art artist's model and painting houses.) Being self-employed is a challenge, you get to be your own boss, but you have only yourself to blame if you fail.
“Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm” -Lincoln
Life may be difficult, so it’s a good idea to try to make a living doing something you have pride in and enthusiasm for. How you interpret life--whether it is “good” or “bad,” is all about how you handle the events…the problems, but it helps if you learn how to recover gracefully and bounce instead of a CRASH, when stress happens. Then you will be able to keep participating. Remember to BREATH. It’s free and we forget how much it reduces stress. Breathing get’s you naturally high if done deeply enough. It’s especially good to practice when doing something impossible.
Q:Is being a professor helpful?
A: Pragmatically, I have chosen to buy into higher education and be a professor; this is not the only path but it’s one I can do. It only took me six years of college, four years of adjuncting, two years of interviewing to get this job, and going all the way to China (insert city name, keeping parentheses) to prove I really wanted this job…so this is not a fast track to easy living. I teach in addition to my non-human artwork, which requires some hefty time management, because I treat it like two full time jobs. This does provide me some security against the lean times. I hope this means I have picked the perfect solution, that I may just continue painting. No one else is supporting me, so I must cover myself. Historically, artists have died at the end of their life in poverty, for example, Louis Sullivan and Gwen Johns. I want to live this life guided by my own vision, while also growing old with dignity and the ability to pay for my care. I prefer to be self-sufficient. This is another reason I have chosen to teach, yet there are no guarantees.
However, in terms of quality of life and depth of experience, teaching is AMAZING. I have learned more teaching than I ever have as a student. I enjoy the role of guide, opening minds…erasing my own biases, so I may dilate apertures and share art’s amazing history, and the massive contemporary art world's blooming beyond all limitations. There are more great artists creating right now than have ever lived in this planet's past. Now is without a doubt the best time to be an artist and the most exciting to participate. Teaching grounds me, it keeps me sane. I would have lost my mind in studio…all alone and what kind of life is it just to be in one room…doing one thing. I do a lot of living through this spring of youth that bubbles up around me; my students are my fountains of youth.
Q: What does it take to get there?
A: Integrity always helps: “Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
Understanding that this is not a conventional “job” helps. Here you are trying your ass off to contribute to culture; expressing your soul through sweat, blood, and tears to make something that no one needs, no one wants...that may go into a landfill! Very few, artists have made reliable income on their sales with market so fickle and delicate --if it's even salable at all.
Limit rhetorical questions: As you sit in your studio and FREAK OUT looking at your white canvas asking yourself questions like, "what am I doing?" and "why am I doing this?" Your parents asking, yes, "Why ARE you doing this?" Questions can feed the fear. Doubt is useless; it is not productive. Just paint. Just create. I say don't ask questions. I would like to quote the movie Weird Science here: "Why are you messing with the fantasy? We know about the reality. Don't ruin the fantasy, okay?" What question? The answer to painting is PAINTING!
If you chose to be an artist, if it’s what makes you happy, then love your cage, your pyramid of possibility. You built it.
Now is the best time to recognize that you are the architect of your own destiny! Make bold, powerful intentions, and write them down. It’s time to change the way we think and speak about our dreams. A working definition for intention is: “to have in mind a purpose or plan, to direct the mind, to aim.” Lacking intention, we sometimes stray without meaning or path. But with it, all the forces of the universe can align to make even the most impossible, possible. My intention is to transform the conversation around dreams from fear and doubt, to hope and possibility, followed by action and results. By setting an intention, you make it clear to yourself and others, just what you plan to do. Set an intention redefining what it means to be serious about your dreams. Now, step two to infinity is living the ways and methods that will make that dream a reality. One foot in front of the other.
Make friends with failure: You will make mistakes, but you will learn from these. I have a binder three inches thick with rejection letters…I like collecting them. It took courage and intentional naivety to make my way in the world...I didn’t “know better.” I am only just coming into my wisdom. I think I am ready for this challenge. I know a lot of people who were too smart to pursue their dreams to be an artist.
One must have chutzpah, and by this I mean to have what it takes to get it done. Not asking if -- only how? This is the momentum to create despite the odds. Do not tell me the statistics. We know the statistics. Don’t remind me of all the people who told me that they wanted to be an artist... or how they went to art school and never used their degree...or how many had a solo show then quit...or how many quit to have children...or how many were lost to substance abuse...or how many just collected art supplies and did nothing with them. In the end, this is not a competition, participating within this community of artists that I know and have met is my utmost joy. Being an artist is an extraordinary privilege.
"Blitz not Ballet" is a credo from my friend Alix Sloan; I interpreted her quote as: Your art career must be a strategic campaign; a war against the odds. There was a time when I thought I could not apply to things because I could not afford the postage AND food. At some point you have to realize, you are the best investment you can invest in. You must spend the time, the money, and have the faith to believe that this matters. Apply to far more things than you will get. Make failure part of the process. One day, success will kick in and you will have to start turning things down and then the game shifts from being really great at being an unsuccessful artist, to how to be a successful artist. That is an entirely new game! New rules and the world is changing constantly. DO NOT GIVE UP.
Q: What would you say to those artists that many times feel like giving
up, due to all difficulties?
A: Learn your history. Read biographies. All extraordinary people came from difficulty and surmounted impossible odds. For this reason, I do not allow myself to make excuses; I must paint. However, a back injury made it impossible for me to do my work for a bit. I painted, but I could not perform like I had in the past. I made the most of it. I curated Cute and Creepy, one of the first educational institution shows of it's kind, functioning as an art facilitator. I took over a non-profit art center that was going to close in the recession. I brought Swoon, Callie Curry, to FSU and helped manage a project to renew our homeless shelter. I networked and took workshops with fellow artists, like Alex Grey and Amanda Sage. I fostered community, writing articles for fellow artists like Chet Zar, in his new book. I learned a lot and healed and healed. I do not allow myself to make excuses; I must paint.
Q: Can you think of a specific moment in your career that made all the
A: It all matters. I believe there are no accidents. I am grateful for the galleries, the artists, the curators that have included me in their shows and published books to promote narrative art, the people who have nominated me for awards. I am grateful for not having more money when I had less sense. I am grateful the world has always provided me with everything I needed, though not necessarily what I wanted. If you are really paying attention, all of life is just so magnificently perfect, even in the moments where you aren't aware. All the rejection, all the teachers…good and bad - all that doubt and confidence make dynamic. It’s texture. If it were easy, it would be far less meaningful.
What is Art?
Anything you give this intention to. My definition is similar for the sacred. We must make meaning out of meaninglessness. Sacredness, art, is created through faith (if only in our path) and practice, which is the process of making something out of nothing, hence the beginning of all creation. More specifically, art is the act of human creation that expresses and reflects the era in which it is made. And, less specifically, the definition of art is a direct reflection of the querent’s understanding and consciousness.
What’s your favorite part of being an artist?
I have already lived to see my family proud of me, and I have sold more paintings than Van Gogh; this is already enough. I continue this path as proof of the dream. If I can be an example of what conviction and perseverance can do, so that others may feel empowered to live their own dreams, then I am content. It is in every one of us to be amazingly and share in the greatest parts of the human experience. In Mahayana Buddhism, there is the concept of the bodhisattva, one who already has a considerable degree of enlightenment and uses their wisdom to help other human beings to become liberated themselves Moreover, walking this path is what defines it. I have the highest regard for this concept of the Bodhisattva, and it is my personal mission to use my skills, what they are, to lead others on their path as artists, realizing visions and releasing desires. Each painting is a desire to embody that bread of movement, accreting gestures and movements tracked and synthesized through space and time. Discharging them is part of our circle of possibility. Something to do a second time, beyond that glow of inspiration, as we come in to our own roles as fecundators. One might think that one should or would quit painting their own work to fulfill this mission, but the only way to have the student's respect is to exhibit the highest level of achievement in one’s chosen field, while teaching, thus teaching by living the example.
Q: How can I support the arts?
A:I urge everyone to volunteer at an art center this year! There is not enough money coming in through the government to support programs; including the museums and non-profit galleries. The government and city grants, which were used to run these organizations, have been terminated. Each hour you volunteer represents about 40.00 dollars. If you have more, this is the year to make a donation or become a collector. Non-profit organizations have boards of directors, needing savvy people to run the show; I urge you to attend a meeting and see how you can help preserve and promote our cultural institutions that will fade away, if you let them.
Q: What is your favorite painting? A:“Starry Night” by Van Gogh nearly knocked me down and I had tears in my eyes. One out of every ten of my students says this painting is their favorite, but I don’t even know if they have seen it in person. After a lifetime of doubt and toil, this painting represents the one-day of painting when everything was in perfect harmony. It is the glorious manifestation of one man’s personal vision finally realized. So shortly after this creation was made, he took his own life. Be gentle to yourself.
“I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. ― Maya Angelou
Q: What’s your long-term plan as an artist?
A: To enjoy the ride.