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WATER MOUNTAINS

I don’t know where the term “Water Mountain” comes from; I am fairly sure it was coined by an art historian whose work I read sometime back in my twenties. It refers to the manner in which medieval Christian artists depicted streams or rivers in the numerous Baptism of Christ scenes. It is an apt visual oxymoron that captures a notable feature of that period’s art, its frequent emphasis of flat, 2-D surface qualities even when depicting decidedly 3-D phenomena like streams that presumably recede into landscape depth.

Although there is little to no similarity between my art and these paintings* I have always felt an artistic kinship with the Byzantine’s highly abstract and conceptualized response to the visual world (historically sandwiched as it was between two dominant “naturalizing” pictorial traditions, those of the classical world and the later European Renaissance). Also I am drawn to imagery--religious or otherwise--signifying dynamic transformational processes, which is clearly the whole point of the baptism paintings. However, in this operation I approach the Water Mountains largely through a formalist lens; I extract these highly varied shapes and re-present them as “significant forms.” As so often, I am never really sure of the true nature of my fascinations, but here I think it has something to do with these forms’ tenuous double status as both depth markers and structural anchors in highly formalized, abstract compositions.

*The original paintings can be viewed by rolling over the Water Mountain “icons” on the right.

COPYRIGHT © 2010, STEVEN BARIS