Artist Jimmy Baker isn't widely known in Cincinnati. He's not supposed to be. He's still a graduate student at UC's College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning (DAAP), at least for another month, a beginner in the close-knit world of Cincinnati artists and arts patrons. But he's building a following and is ready to replace Mark Fox, who relocated to New York City last year, as the city's best working artist.
His latest show -- his graduate thesis exhibition, Hands On -- is a bold next step for Baker, who clearly sees himself as more than a painter. A series of installations comprised of a documentary video loop, line drawings on paper, digital photographs, interactive sculpture and a surface of soil, Hands On shows the work of someone youthful and confident enough to reach for something different and talented enough to do it well.
Granted, the five works on canvas -- especially the dreamlike piece that makes up the installation "Awakening from Naivety" -- generate the largest wows in the show. Adjacent to a documentary video that recounts a chemical leak Baker experienced as a child in his hometown of Dover, Ohio, "Awakening from Naivety" consists of visual motifs drawn from the video, rail tank cars and railroad tracks set against a fantasy sky.
Baker's latest series of paintings are more surreal than the pure abstractions he showed at The Artery last summer. The color palettes are earthier and richer, adding dimension to the images.
He's proven to be an eclectic painter, but Hands On shows an exciting expansion of his vision. With this show, Baker is doing many different things, and he's doing them all well. He is young and clearly adventurous, but his work is too traditional, too classically crafted to be postmodern.
While he's painted various forms before, Baker expands his painterly dialogue with Hands On, adding a socio-political context to the work through his concern over the chemical plant.
It's a Sunday afternoon, and Baker stays busy lighting and installing the show. He works solo, completing the prep work himself like most students.
On the show's debut morning for the general public, he sweeps the gallery floor around his work and examines the lights. He stands alone in the corner of DAAP's downtown gallery, talking about his plans with the local artists cooperative Publico, his new studio in Northside and his plans to remain in Cincinnati.
Baker is a wiry man with short red hair, stylish glasses, a boyish build and a more boyish face. He speaks hurriedly but never loses focus.
At first glance, he looks shy, but he's direct, aggressive and outgoing, willing to discuss his work. For now, he says he plans to represent himself for now.
At 23, Baker is a painter, a very good painter, but like many young artists he wants to be more -- a filmmaker, a sculptor and an aspiring gallery programmer. His days as a DAAP student are over. His time as a full-time artist is just beginning.
Support from local movers and shakers is hard to determine. For the time being, Baker belongs to the public at large.
Artists leave town all the time. Fox departed some time ago, and Jimmy Baker is ready to replace him in the spotlight. Graduation is here.