CONTEMPORARY IMPRESSIONIST PAINTING
“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, At The C.A.F.
The Contemporary Arts Foundation (CAF) in Oklahoma City was Rea’s incubator as an artist. A magnet for young artists, the CAF was a formidable alternative to the conservative art establishment of Oklahoma City. Rea was just one of the generation of talented young artists who congregated there. Always adept at painting and other visual media, Rea’s time at the CAF, offered unique access to alternative forms of expression and influenced the direction of her artistic career. She worked in all aspects of theater, film-making other multi-dimensional performance work. She established and curated a classic film program, and created the docu-drama, “Cheap Imitation of Life”, an early effort in her film-as-performance experiments. Her multi-media fantasy adventure, “Making the Re-Make of Gone With the Wind” was her most iconic work of this period. An epic exploration of applied imagination. It asked the question, ”Is it possible to pretend an artwork into existence?” To that end, an army of volunteers were enlisted to create personae and to perform their practical assignments in character. The filmed documentation of these performances, culminated in the the final, frantic “Search for Scarlett” sequence. The manifestation of the months-long project, the movie itself was scheduled to be premiered… On April 1, 1976, when that project and all of Rea’s other artwork vanished in a fire that destroyed her studio, the CAF building, gallery, theatre, the other artist studios it housed. A huge blow to Rea, It was also and a disaster for the cultural life of her home town, and Rea joined the mini diaspora of artists that ensued in the wake of that disaster.
•1976-1978, London, UK, The Fire of London
Rea moved to London and the British Film Institute, where she focused on her writing and film-making. Then, in May of 1977, the midst of editing her first project, fire struck again, and again all of her work efforts were lost. The brutal irony of losing an entire body of work twice to fires has resonated through much of Rea’s subsequent work.
•1978-1981 San Francisco, CA, Myth America
Moving to San Francisco, She and Bay-Area artist, Lynn Hershman formed a partnership in a corporate art entity, “Myth America Corporation”, motto “making art/meaning business”. Based on the concept of selling art futures to finance large scale art projects, MAMCO embarked on producing serious art in unexpected places, i.e., a Michelangelo Pistoletto installation in a shopping mall and La Mammel performance and video projects for local access cable TV, and Rea’s radical film “sculptures” like the virtual arson of the Academy of Art Building in downtown San Francisco. “Two Story Building”, was a simulation a cultural conflagration, using film as sculpture. For this, Rea produced synchronized films to convey two simple stories. The films were projected onto the windows from inside the the San Francisco Art Institute. The effect was a convincing approximation of a 5-alarm fire, extinguished by a freak deluge. This story of destruction, deliverance and the healing fog of memory was also an exercise in collective experience. Only a movie. The second manifestation, “Two Story Building II”, produced at the Portland Center for the Visual Arts, was even more dramatic, and included a working, scale model of the project, installed in the gallery and synced to a real-time soundtrack of the event.
•1982-1983, Oklahoma City, The B.L.O.
The sudden death of her father and family business responsibilities brought Rea back to OKC. Her first large scale project there was a scathing satire on the stagnation she found in the arts community in OKC since the demise of C.A.F. The fabulous Bozeaux Ball was a community organized art project, involving contributions from participants from disparate backgrounds and circumstances to join an effort to inspire the creative spirit of the city, the Bozeaux Liberation Organization. From that project grew a re-invigorated I.A.O.(Individual Artists of Oklahoma), and many other distinctive conceptual works.
•1983-1995, Consolidated Arts Corporation, Making Belief
Rea established Con-Arts, another corporate entity as art. Through this company, Rea developed the “Rrose Ney School of Fine Taste”, (later “Ecole des Bozeaux”). A correspondence course in Fine taste granting elaborate 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. “Painting-by-Ear”, an audio guide to replicating famous masterpieces. "Imelda Marcos Plunder Pumps”, a humorous poke at the business of art fairs. “In the Wake of Andy Warhol”, another multi-media performance 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 nearly microscopic type was virtually unreadable, but hilarious under 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, 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), thus producing both art and livelihood for both artists.
April 19, 1995, The Bombing of the Murrah Building, OKC destroyed Rea and Joseph’s studios along with the Stukkup Gallery. This initiated yet another re-boot and another re-consideration of the whole 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” which showcased 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 real 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 web-based platforms and digital art. She produced many computer generated works, and self-destructing memes. Her 2010 work, “Levres des Bozeaux” utilized Facebook profile portraits for a viral one day April fools’ prank that resulted in users posting an altered photos of themselves sporting giant red wax lips as their profile image for one day.
•2010-Present, Oklahoma City, The Late Middle Ages
Towards the end of 2009, around the same time Rea had begun to become dissatisfied with the energy-sapping aspects of screens in the digital realm, the 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. She found the tactile stimulus of painting, much more gratifying than ever before, and, since that time she has continued to work away at it. Acknowledged as a gifted and innovative painter, Rea's works are widely collected, and she has enjoyed many successful showings of her paintings. She continues to develop and test her skills in the medium she once considered 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
MAY 2022 / LIGGETT GALLERY, Tulsa, OK
AUG. 2023 / JRB Gallery, OKC
ART NOW Biennial Exhibition,
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.
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 at:
OVAC (Okla. Visual Artists Coalition), Oklahoma City, OK
Oklahoma Contemporary Art Center , Oklahoma City, OK
IAO (Individual Artists of Oklahoma), Oklahoma City, OK
Price Collection, Bartlesville, OK
Stukkup Galleries, Oklahoma City, OK
Portland Center for the Visual Arts, Portland, OR
San Francisco Academy of Arts, San Francisco, CA
La Mammel Arts Group, San Francisco, CA
J.M. Curtis Collection, San Francisco, CA/Oklahoma City, OK
BFI, (British Film Institute), London, Beaconsfield, UK
CAF (Contemporary Arts Foundation), Oklahoma City, OK