“For me, a successful painting is one that takes as much time to look at as it took to paint.”
THE WORK Veering between representation and abstraction, I try to keep the focus on the space between canvas and the brain, and let imagination do its’ job.
THE ACT I like looking at a painting as much as making it. Watching ancillary images emerge from quirky, disparate paint shapes is my idea of pure pleasure.
Humans read and construct meaning from the chaos of line and color so effortlessly. Sometimes I feel like my work can be a conduit for that process, coaxing the brain into vague recognitions, and then allowing those to reform into others, like a shifting banks of clouds.
THE METHOD I use almost any image, shape or color to get a painting started, then I just keep digressing, trying not to hamper the flow of the paint and the secondary images that ooze out of it. If the painting gets too tight or precious, I stop, scrape it down and restart, or just grab another one. When the process is working, it's akin to automatic writing or shape-shifting. That's why I work in oil paint, and on several canvases at a time, and never really finish.
THE EFFECT These paintings are meant to be protracted entertainments, more like movies than static images. Ideally, they should take as much time to look at as they did to make.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Born, lives and works in Oklahoma City, OK
Something of an autodidact, Rea Baldridge's boundless curiosity led her to explore practically every medium available to her. She was frustrated early in her development with what she naively perceived as the inadequacy of painting to satisfactorily express her ideas, so she found herself exploring more integrative art forms. Then, a series of fires, bombings and other mishaps obliterated most physical evidence of her early work. These traumas may have reinforced her hesitancy about object-making, but they also informed her subsequent conceptual pieces, in which she employed the healing power of humor to explore the nature of loss, impermanence of objects, and the fragility of memory.
•1970-1976, Oklahoma City, The C.A.F.
The Contemporary Arts Foundation (CAF) in Oklahoma City was an incubator for young artists in Oklahoma City and an alternative to the conservative art establishment. Rea was part of a generation of the young artists nurtured there. Adept at drawing and painting, the CAF, offered her access to other forms of artistic expression and collaborative experiences expanding her creative horizons beyond visual media. She became involved in theater, produced audio-landscapes, made films and participated in multi-dimensional performance pieces, while establishing and curating a classic film program.
This immersion led to her early film-as-performance experiments. “Cheap Imitation of Life” and “Making the Re-Make of Gone With the Wind”, were two major works of this period. Both dealt with the force of collective imagination, as multi-level vehicles where each stage of the film-making process was performed as an independent part of the whole. The creation was the performance, each character self-documenting their unique perspective while simultaneously executing their film-making tasks.
On April 1, 1976, a fire at the CAF destroyed Rea’s and all the other artists’ studios along with the galleries, print shop, theater and artworks housed in the building. Losing the work, the venue and the facility was a blow to Rea and to the cultural life of her home town. She soon joined a mini diaspora of artists that followed in the wake of that disaster.
•1976-1978, London, UK, BFI
Rea moved to London and the British Film Institute, where she focused on her writing and film-making. Incomprehensibly, in the midst of editing her first major project since the demise of the CAF, fire struck again, and all of her efforts were lost. The brutal irony of losing an entire body of work twice to fires within such a short span of time had quite an impact on much of Rea’s subsequent work.
•1978-1981, San Francisco, CA, Myth America
In San Francisco, Rea and Bay-area artist, Lynn Hershman formed a partnership in a corporate art entity, “Myth America Corporation”, motto “making art mean business”. Mirroring corporate structures, the company was based on the concept of financing large-scale art projects through the sale of art ‘futures’, MAMCO embarked producing work, and works in collaboration with other artists, performance and video projects for local access cable TV and Rea’s radical film “sculptures”.
The “Two Story Building” projects were Rea’s simulations of cultural conflagrations. These virtual acts of arson were achieved through the use of film loops projected through the windows from inside of buildings, The San Francisco Academy Of Arts and Portland Center for the Visual Arts. The projected films were synchronized to convey two simple stories occurring on two different floors. The effect resulted in convincing approximation of a 5-alarm fire, happening on one story while a freak deluge causes the upper story to fill with water. Then, just as the fire reaches its’ apex and the water upstairs begins to boil, the flood bursts through the floor and extinguishes the blaze in a giant whoosh of steam. This story of destruction, deliverance and the healing fog of memory was also an exercise in collective experience. The spectacle was documented in the form of a working, scale model of the work, installed in the gallery and synced to a real-time soundtrack of the event.
•1982-1985, Oklahoma City, The B.L.O.
Returning to OKC after her father’s death, Rea’s first large scale project there was a scathing satire on the stagnation of the arts community in OKC since the demise of C.A.F. The Bozeaux Ball was a community organized art project, involving contributions from participants of disparate backgrounds and circumstances in an effort to inspire the creative spirit of the city, via Bozeaux Liberation Organization. From that project grew a re-invigorated I.A.O.(Individual Artists of Oklahoma), and many more of Rea's distinctive conceptual works.
•1985-1995, Consolidated Arts Corporation, Making Belief
Rea established Con-Arts, another corporate entity as art. Through this company, Rea developed the “The School of Fine Taste”, (later “Ecole des Bozeaux”). A correspondence course in Fine taste granting Certificates of Fine Taste to its’ ‘graduates’ in exchange for essays on the theme “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like”. “Buy-Products, Unlimited”, was a series of one-off sculptures disguised as mass-produced objects.“The Going Away Party”. A video Production with and Mike Mullin and Dan Boord. “Painting-by-Ear”, an audio guide to replicating famous masterpieces in paint. "Imelda Marcos True-Heels Plunder Pumps”, a humorous poke at Art fair business. “In the Wake of Andy Warhol”, another multi-media performance, both spoofing and commemorating the effect of Warhol’s influence on contemporary art sensibilities.
Rea was also actively painting, exhibiting and curating in several galleries and venues in Oklahoma City. She and husband/collaborator, the photographer, Joseph Mills, created “TinyTown Crier”, a miniaturized 4”X4” publication sporting the declaration, “Nothing Too Small to Notice-Nothing Too Big to Ignore”. Using the cut-ups technique à la William S. Burroughsʼ, it was a surreal, irony-soaked take on the news business. It’s microscopic type was virtually unreadable, without a magnifying glass, (the publication was free, but the magnifying loupe came at a price).
At this time Rea and Joseph, also a talented musician, produced musical projects, including the “Tiny Town Choir Christmas Album” A second album, "Tiny Town II" and the one-night-stand performance of the "Anxious Casserole" tour.
“The American Socialite Party” was inspired by the state of politics in the U.S., this pseudo political party was formed as antidote to the vitriol of the political landscape. “We the politically polite…”, symbolized by white-gloved hands, crossed in salute, and a manifesto, based on the advice of Emily Post, to promote good manners while “giving socialism a nicer name”.
•1995-2005, Oklahoma City, QuasiCorp, We almost Mean Business
Established with Joseph Mills, Quasi Corporation, motto, “we almost mean business”, was created to incorporate Rea's artistic output and Joseph Mills Photography, (a commercial photography business), producing both art and livelihood for both artists.
The OKC (Murrah Building) Bombing in April 1995, wrecked Rea and Joseph’s studios and their Stukkup Gallery, and initiated another re-boot and re-consideration of the notion of permanence, leading to “Mullinʼs Mullin”, a multi-media tribute to CAF icon, friend and collaborator, the poet/play-write, Mike Mullin, and a salute to the the legacy of the CAF. This was followed by “Bonfire of the Vanities Fair”, showcasing local artistsʼ self-selected artistic embarrassments for presentation at public auction. The highest bidder, was given the option to preserve the work, or toss it onto the bonfire at the finale. To the amazement of many artists, none of the work was burned, a tangible manifestation of art “appreciation”.
•2005-2009, Oklahoma City, Experiments in the Ether
Rea’s artistic focus shifted dramatically as she became enthralled with new media forms. Experimenting with digital art and web-based platforms, She produced and exhibited many computer generated works on paper and inter-active projects, like her 2010 work, “Levres des Bozeaux” which utilized Facebook profile portraits to satirize the megalomaniacal and narcissistic absurdity of the Facebook phenomenon with an April fools’ prank that resulted in users posting altered profile photos of themselves sporting giant red wax clown lips for one day.
•2010-Present, Oklahoma City, The Late Middle Ages
Towards the end of 2009, just as Rea had begun to become dissatisfied with the digital realm, an opportunity to join her husband in a dual exhibit of their work triggered an abrupt shift in focus. She picked up her brushes and began to paint again. She found the tactile stimulus of painting, much more gratifying than ever before. Always acknowledged as a gifted and innovative painter, Rea's works are widely collected, and she has enjoyed many successful showings of her painting. She continues to develop and test her skills in the medium she once considered too limiting.
All the influences and inspirations of Rea's personal journey are evident in her current work. Ironically, in this mature work, she manages to manifest, in paint, the very constructive/destructive cycles that caused her long ambivalence to painting and object creation in the first place.
"Usually, when I'm introduced as an artist, I find certain assumptions are made about what I do... painting? sculpting? And I say 'yes". Because I use whatever suits the Idea I'm working on, and I'm not averse to trying anything. My current conceptual work is transforming myself into a painter. I have spent 10 years on it so far, and this project will probably take the rest of my life."
Lindenwood College, St. Charles, Mo.
The University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK
Contemporary Art Foundation/Warehouse Theatre, (CAF), OKC
Information regarding conceptual works, performance, film, digital productions,
including exhibitions of painting, drawing, prints and other work prior to 2009
can be made available upon request.
Rea is affiliated with, and has exhibited and participated in exhibitions at:
AUG. 2023 / JRB Gallery, OKC
MAY 2022 / LIGGETT GALLERY, Tulsa, OK
ART NOW Biennial Exhibition,
Oklahoma Contemporary Art Center
Rea was honored to be included in the first Biennial Invitational, curated by Helen Opper.
JRB Galleries, Oklahoma City
Rea has enjoyed biennial Solo exhibits and exhibited in tandem with husband,
Joseph Mills' Photographs since 2009, and has participated in some themed events as well.
1990-2009 Oklahoma Contemporary Art Center , Oklahoma City, OK
IAO (Individual Artists of Oklahoma), Oklahoma City, OK
Stukkup Galleries, Oklahoma City, OK
Price Collection, Bartlesville, OK
1981-95 OVAC (Okla. Visual Artists Coalition), Oklahoma City, OK
IAO (Individual Artists of Oklahoma), Oklahoma City, OK
J.M. Curtis Collection, San Francisco, CA/Oklahoma City, OK
1979-81 Myth America, La Mamelle, San Francisco, CA San Francisco Academy of Arts, Portland Center
for the Visual Arts, Portland, OR
1976-78 BFI, (British Film Institute), London, Beaconsfield, UK
1970-76 CAF (Contemporary Arts Foundation), Oklahoma City, OK
2021 ART NIOW Biennial Exhibition
Oklahoma Contemporary, OKC, OK