Borders recently announced that nominees for the 2008 Original Voices Awards. The annual prizes recognize "fresh, compelling, and ambitious works from the new and emerging talents" published in the past year.
In the midst of an economic downturn and a crunched credit market, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt recently requested that its editors stop acquiring books.
Baker notes that he doesn’t use the Internet to track down books because it “goes against the grain” of the project, which he says is “a kind of fundamental social intercourse.”
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.”
"As my involvement with this act of 'portraiture' has continued," Baker writes, "the reasons for choosing which titles and editions have evolved and become more various, though it remains of paramount importance that they be familiar and of no special pedigree. In the end, these paintings stand against loss and for reverie, memory, optimism, desire, and love."
"I wanted to move to Paris after reading Henry Miller; Celine spoke directly to my most disaffected adolescent angers and frustrations, Hamsun mirrored my own tender love of romance (and love of love) and the consuming power of infatuation; I identified with the pointed absurdity of Jarry’s “Ubu Roi” and wished to be a playwright; Camus revealed the oppressiveness of organized societal hierarchies, totally encompassing my own age-appropriate defiance of authority," Baker writes. "The list went on and on."
"Which books to paint then?" Baker writes. "I began to think about books that had been important and life-changing for me, but which I now felt I could no longer return to—books that held great meaning for me as a youth but lacked the same impact upon rereading."
"As our personalities are changed (or not) by them, so too do they absorb impressions of our lives," Baker writes. "Each book becomes its own unique individual, most especially true of the lowly paperback."
"They come to stand for various episodes of our lives, for certain idealisms, follies of belief, moments of love," Baker writes. "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."
"As physical objects they are powerful fetishes, icons, containers of every conceivable thought and/or emotion," Baker writes. "We cart them from home to work on our commutes and they accompany us on vacations. We move them carefully packed in boxes from one domicile to another, from one phase of life to another."