The Written Image: Richard Baker

From the January/February 2009 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

As more readers choose a nifty gadget like the Amazon Kindle over a hefty new hardcover, or a flashy iPhone application such as Stanza over the soft dog-ears of a well-worn paperback, those who still appreciate objects made solely of paper, ink, and glue will likely respond to the work of forty-nine-year-old painter Richard Baker. The images below are taken from the artist's series of book "portraits," which he began painting in 2004.

"Books have always been important to me," Baker wrote in a statement about the portraits for a benefit exhibition held at the Mark Twain House in Hartford in December. "As physical objects they are powerful fetishes, icons, containers of every conceivable thought and/or emotion. They come to stand for various episodes of our lives, for certain idealisms, follies of belief, moments of love. Along the way they accumulate our marks, our stains, our innocent abuses—they come to wear our experience of them on their covers and bindings like wrinkles on our own skin." Baker says it took anywhere from one to three weeks to complete each 12 x 10 1/2-inch gouache portrait. But that doesn't account for the time spent "fishing the used bookstores in search of the right thing," he says: "no precious first editions, no rare things—just your common companions."