Egg tempera, watercolor, and gouache on board
OtherPeoplesPixels: When looking at your paintings, I imagine you have a complete narrative in mind when painting. Is this the case?Carl Baratta: Well actually I don’t have a specific idea of a narrative. What I tend to do is read a lot of mythology, fables, sci-fi, and mystery books and then pick the parts where there is a tipping point in the narrative. Everything I end up doing leads back to transformation and moments of struggle. There’s a lot of overlap in everything I read so when I see a certain situation crop up I start to imagine what it would look like. The moment I pick is really important and I try to start every painting differently to see what happens. Sometimes I plan out major parts and other times I start with weird blobs and work out from them.OPP: Tell us about how you make choices about your color palette?CB: I approach a visual piece the same way as I do written stories. For the overall narrative tone, I’ve recently moved away from a Mughal Miniature approach to color and have started using a more subdued earthy pallet, more of a late Fauve use of color. One reason I decided to do this is I have been introducing a lot of animals into the landscapes and the high key color makes them look too cartoony. The other reason was I was making super violent imagery that the viewer didn’t see right away because the jewel-intense color struck the viewer first. I think having the color be more subtle lets the imagery be seen first and then the network of color. I’ve made well over 50 paintings that operate on the color first principle and felt I should move on. What I love most about the miniatures is the emphasis on an ever present situation as opposed to a more mutable subject matter. That’s why the only transient shadows I ever paint are really there to set a mood, never to imply that there’s a sun that moves over the land.
Watercolor, gouache & ink on paper
18"x25.5"OPP: I’ve heard you talk about the Mughal Miniatures before, but I’m not familiar with them. For those of us who are less educated, could you describe them and what draws you to them?CB: Mughal is a style of painting from the 16th to 19th century in South Asia. The painters from that time period are known for their blushing colors and their use of pattern as a vehicle to move the viewer's eye throughout the composition. My favorite works are during Akbar's dynasty. He was alive during a period where there was a lot of trading of goods and ideas between cultures and understood the power of synthesizing all these ideas to come up with some very interesting paintings and ultimately introducing his people to a broader understanding of the world they lived in. A couple years ago I saw a collection of illuminated pages from a book in his collection at the Met. The sky was atmospheric picking up ideas from the West, and everything below the sky line was laid out with strong color rhythms and patterning that the Moghuls picked up from previous painting styles. It struck me that when I look back over painting and pick my favorite spatial conventions to create a dynamic space, I'm synthesizing from many cultures too. I feel that this is still relevant in our culture now, and to me it feels incredibly contemporary. The best thing about looking in the past is the experience of seeing something you wholeheartedly believe in from a long long time ago in a different country. It's the closest I will ever get to having a time traveler's conversation. It doesn't happen all the time, but when it does it feels really important.OPP: In pieces like MFBB 2 (TFEFA!) (2009), Failed Out of Autumn (2007), and Showdown in Flames (2005), we see beheadings, bodies ripped in half and hand to hand combat. Could you talk about the recurring violence in your work? CB: I need to come clean and say that I put the violent shit into my paintings because I think it’s awesome and it makes my friends laugh. Sometimes the gore is pretty over the top. A lot of the gore either comes from film stills from giant monster movies from the 70’s or from paintings and tapestries from just about anywhere from any time period. I collect images of beheading/ dismembering images and have a pretty large collection.You wouldn’t believe how many paintings there are that have chopped off heads in them. For instance MFBB 2 (TFEFA!) stands for ‘Mother Fucking Blood Bath 2 (yeah, there was a number 1) and then ‘Thanks for everything Fra Angelico!’. The painting is based off of Fra Angelico’s The Beheading of Saint Cosmas and Saint Damien. I’ve been to Paris several times, and I always spin by that painting in the Louvre and stay with it for an hour or two. The composition is so tight it blows my mind. For my piece I wanted an even more anonymous set of figures while keeping the composition tight. To do that, I had to move some things around and essentially break Fra Angelico’s composition. It’s stupid to take a painting you love, shit all over the composition and not rebuild it. It’s a respect thing for me. Anyway, it was going to be a ‘fast’ painting. Took me over four months to figure out and it’s still not anywhere as amazing as Fra Angelico’s. In the end I realized the composition was what moved me to try my own. Since then I’ve tried to tackle every piece as fiercely as that one.
Egg tempera on board
24"x24"OPP: Often chopped limbs from trees resemble chopped off limbs from humans and monsters in your paintings. The landscapes and figures seem to have equal weight in your work. How do you view the connections between the environments you paint and the figures that populate them?CB: You know, before I even made the connection between body parts and tree limbs, I realized I’d been photographing weird body-like trees for years! I paint them because I want the figures to reflect the world around them and have the landscape react to the figure’s emotional state depicted. In other words, the world around each figure is an extension of what is happening internally to the figure and vice versa creating the open ended narrative. Sometimes having trees and fauna echo the shape of animals and people is the quickest, clearest way to get their emotional relationship across to an audience.OPP: What kind of drawings did you make as a child?
CB: Scribbly, weird ghost shit and robots. Basically the same stuff I draw now but without an art history background. I drew like that until I went to undergrad and then trained under New York abstract painters. The work I make now is me backing out of a tradition where paint is paint and moving into figurative painting. I can no longer just draw from one type of work or another, so these days I continuously try to meld the two approaches together.
Watercolor, gouache and ink on paper
32"x36"OPP: Do you have a favorite piece or series by another artist? CB: Well I mentioned Fra Angelico’s The Beheading of Saint Cosmas and Saint Damien, but I’d also think Saint Anthony the Abbot in the Wilderness by Master of the Osservanza is totally amazing. A contemporary I really enjoy is Johnny Ryan’s on going comic series Prison Pit. I’m not sure if it’s my favorite, but Bob Thompson’s Blue Madonna makes me feel like I am lazy and need to work harder. I’m looking at a lot of Bob Thompson again, and it’s blowing my mind. OPP: What's your favorite piece of your own work? CB: As for my own work, I usually just look at it in terms of what I should fix. So I don’t have a favorite. I just have ones that are more painful to look at than others. I know I’m being vague, but the paintings that are more or less painful to me change places every month or so. So, in short, I don’t know.
Water color, gouache & ink on paper
20"x26"OPP: You've been showing like crazy these days. Where can people see your work in person right now?CB: I had a solo show open at Lloyd Dobler last Friday, March 2nd. It’s got a 5 x 10’ diptych in egg tempera and also features selected paintings from 2011 and 2012. The following night I had a group show I’ve curated about personal hell, transformation and struggle, opening at Side Car Gallery in Indiana. It’s entitled They Wore Faces of Red Clay, which is a line from a Mayan poem about death and the afterlife. Since this year is the year the Mayans predicted the world will shit the bed, you should come and see it before you melt into a puddle of blood and tears! The show features six artists, Isak Applin and Shay Degrandis from Chicago, Dan Schank and JJ Pakola-Mayoka from New York, and Iva Gueorguieva and Justin Michell from LA. The work they gave me for the show looks great and truly strange. In a good way.In June I’m in a group show at Southfirst in Brooklyn, curated by Jesse Bransford entitled That Sinking Sense of Wonder. And in the fall I’m in a group show at the DePaul Museum, a workshop with Isak Applin and Oli Watt at Columbia College, and I’m doing an installation at the Roger Brown House here in Chicago. All three things are curated by Thea Nichols and Dahlia Tulett-Gross. It’s going to be hot! Come see everything!