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Alice Baber Biography

Alice Baber‭ (‬1928-1982‭) ‬was an American abstract expressionist painter‭, ‬best known for the organic‭, ‬biomorphic forms she painted‭ ‬using a staining technique which allowed her to explore pure color and elicit a sense of radiant light‭. ‬Born in Charleston‭, ‬Illinois‭, ‬Baber spent her childhood winters in Florida due to poor health‭. ‬Drawing attracted her from an early age‭, ‬and by the time‭ ‬she was twelve she already attended college-level classes‭. ‬Upon graduation from high school‭, ‬she joined Lindenwood College in Missouri‭, ‬and soon transferred to the more competitive Indiana University‭, ‬Bloomington‭, ‬where she was able to study with the figurative expressionist painter‭, ‬Alton Pickens‭. ‬Baber completed her Master of Arts degree in 1951‭ ‬and travelled to Europe‭, ‬where she spent a short period studying at the École des Beaux‭- ‬Arts in Fontainebleau‭, ‬France‭, ‬before settling in New York City‭. ‬During‭ ‬the second half of the 1950s Baber supported herself by writing for McCall’s magazine‭, ‬where she then became the arts editor‭. ‬She also joined the March Gallery roster‭, ‬which was one of the Tenth Street artists’‭ ‬co-ops‭. ‬

1958‭ ‬proved a crucial year in Baber’s career‭. ‬She had her first solo exhibition at the March gallery and was invited to her first residency at the Yaddo colony‭, ‬in‭ ‬Saratoga Springs‭, ‬New York‭. ‬She also began work on a painting titled Battle of the Oranges‭, ‬which emerged from a series of still‭-‬life paintings filled with circular shapes of fruit‭. ‬It was at this point‭, ‬according to writer and historian Sylvia Moore‭, ‬that‭ ‬Baber‭ ‬“first perceived that the circle possessed an infinite range of possibilities for exploration of color and light”‭ ‬and began to form her unique artistic style‭. ‬Before the end of the year Baber travelled again to France‭, ‬deciding to live in Paris for six months of every year‭. ‬At the time‭, ‬Paris was home for a group of North American painters‭, ‬including Sam Francis‭, ‬Joan Mitchell‭, ‬Shirley Jaffe and others‭, ‬that became known to some as the École du Pacifique‭, ‬although their association was primarily social rather than stylistic‭. ‬In 1959‭, ‬Baber was chosen‭, ‬along with Helen Frankenthaler‭, ‬to participate in the first edition of the Jeune Biennale by Darthea Speyer‭, ‬the director of the American Cultural Centre in Paris‭. ‬Over the next few years her work was seen in several exhibition in Paris‭, ‬London‭, ‬Edinburgh‭, ‬and Hamburg‭.‬

In Paris‭, ‬Baber met the artist Paul Jenkins‭, ‬another American expatriate‭, ‬who shared her passion for abstraction and the exploration of colour surfaces in painting‭. ‬The two also shared an interest in southeast Asian art and collected historical artefacts from the region whenever they could find and afford them‭ (‬Baber’s fascination for the subject was sparked by a course on Oriental Art that she took during her studies in Indiana‭). ‬The two married in 1964‭, ‬and soon after that they set off to Japan on the occasion of a double exhibition they had at the Osaka Pinacotheca‭ ‬Museum‭. ‬Their marriage however was short lived‭, ‬and in 1970‭ ‬they parted ways‭.‬

Baber’s stylistic development during the period between 1958‭ ‬and the mid-1970s is characterized by a series of experiments with color‭ ‬and technique‭. ‬Having turned to abstraction in 1958‭, ‬she began exploring a monochromatic approach to painting‭, ‬primarily using shades of red‭. ‬By 1960‭ ‬Baber came to add yellows‭, ‬greens‭, ‬and lavender to her work‭. ‬She gradually incorporated a growing variety‭ ‬of colors into her canvases‭, ‬a process that reached its hiatus by the mid 1970s when she finally introduced black to her work‭, ‬achieving a new range of effects and subtleties‭.‬

Her evolving approach to painting is also characterized by her choice of materials‭. ‬In the first half of the 1950s she worked primarily in oil‭, ‬but soon began to dilute her paint in order to emphasize the different shades of color‭, ‬eventually expanding her‭ ‬practice to include also acrylic on canvas and watercolors on paper as alternatives to oil‭. ‬Watercolors in particular lent themselves more easily to her growing interest in transparency and luminosity‭, ‬as well as her interests in joining light and color in a kinetic fusion‭. ‬Baber also worked with acrylic‭. ‬Working in both mediums in parallel led to discoveries that altered the course of Baber’s painting‭, ‬a method of‭ ‬‘sinking’‭ (‬or‭ ‬‘staining’‭) ‬and‭ ‬‘lifting’‭ ‬to create abstract‭, ‬organic forms‭ ‬–‭ ‬a visual style that has since become her signature‭. ‬Color would remain central to the artist’s practice throughout her career‭, ‬a theme on which she wrote at length in several publications‭, ‬and which became the subject of‭ ‬exhibitions the artist curated‭, ‬including Color Forum‭, ‬a large-scale group exhibition held at the University of Texas‭, ‬Austin‭, ‬1972‭.‬

An active feminist‭, ‬Baber participated in several exhibitions dedicated to women artists‭, ‬notably Women Choose Women‭, ‬held at the New York Cultural Center in 1972‭, ‬curated by Lucy Lippard‭. ‬Throughout her career‭, ‬Baber participated in numerous institutional‭ ‬group shows‭, ‬including at the Corcoran Art Gallery‭, ‬Washington‭, ‬D.C‭. (‬1972‭), ‬and Whitechapel Gallery‭, ‬London‭ (‬1966‭). ‬Today‭, ‬she‭ ‬is represented in over 40‭ ‬public institutions around the world‭, ‬with works in major museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of‭ ‬Art‭, ‬the Solomon R‭. ‬Guggenheim Museum‭, ‬the Whitney Museum of American Art‭, ‬the Museum of Modern Art‭, ‬New York‭, ‬the Albertina Museum‭, ‬Vienna and the Stedeljik Museum‭, ‬Amsterdam‭.‬

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