18 April 2022

Donald Baechler's war zones of paint where angels slug it out


I have always had a soft spot for this artist so it is sad to hear of his death last week at the age of 65.

I really loved his quixotic and weird pictorial imagination which he used in a multitude of different ways. I knew his paintings and drawings but he also made sculptures too. He was certainly painter's painter, and by that I mean that his first love was always the expressive graphic punch of an original image while using lots of paint. And painters love both originality and lots of paint.

His canvas's often resembled delicate war zones where angels slugged it out in the airy open. This is not a tortured Edvard Munch, this is a guy who clearly had fun in his studio and hopefully, and (presumably) in his New York life. I always felt a little envious of his unrestrained creativity, his devil-may-care insouciance.   

His imagination, though playful and childlike, also resembled an autistic playground as well. He made lots of wild-looking cartoons out of every kind of household object, and he must have watched a lot of television as a kid too. And as the actor Jim Curry had reportedly learned many of his cartoon voices and sounds from and 60's television, then so did Donald Baechler, who filled his own head with the same cartoons from this golden era of American camp.

But his visual focus was mostly always like a direct hit at the viewer. His ideas, always just out of reach of our rational expectations, seemed also rooted in the depths of art history. At times Byzantine, at times Cycladic, but sometimes just a hop and a skip from Disney World.

One of my very favorite paintings is called Deep North (just below). He manages to create a world of allegory, both rational (in pictorial terms) and absurd. The stern zen master might approve.


In these earlier works from the 1970's and 80's there is a visual clarity so unlike the often shoddy ambiguity of his contemporary, Jean-Michel Basquiat though I admit it is really unfair to compare artists. I say this because I gradually came to appreciate the visual poetry of some of Basquiat's work but too often, I felt this quality was lost in his undisciplined approach to his chosen craft (Painting). And also in Basquiat's work, I miss the concise, visual acuity that I find in Donald Baechler's work which is always his strong point. But don't get me wrong, I do like ambiguity, but not the unclear and mushy, disguised as ambiguous, which I find inferior.

One can see this difference in all sorts of paintings throughout history. Some painters indulge in a kind of mushiness, maybe out of a lack of drawing skills, maybe a fear of conviction but one rarely feels that with Donald Baechler. Even if one doesn’t appreciate his content, it is at least clear. Here are just a few more of my favourite things…

No comments:

Post a Comment