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Why does a Letter always arrive at its Destination?

Ethics in the Cure

On the Beginning of a Psychoanalysis

Passion in the Cure


Interview with
Donald Baechler

Interview with
Julio Galán




Donald Baechler

Josefina Ayerza

I learn to make my mind large, as Donald Baechler's work is large, so that there is room for paradoxes. A Tree, but a tree, a Pail, but a pail, Figs but figs, however faces, they make numbers; also numbers, they make faces. Leaning back on a rock grown in the middle of nowhere, Balzac fits one roundness inside the other.

I look into the Crowd, see round, square, pointed faces stream past the oval looking glass intended to comprise me. I look down to the Socks, I see them shape my foot and leg. I look at the Flowers, see them float by me.

A white Dinosaur is beside me. Does he have a soccer ball? We studied each other. His height made me strain. Instantly he reverts to a Crocodile, and slithers away hissing. From the fairy tales I've learned exactly how soccer balls may turn into cucumbers, chili peppers, onions, potatoes.

The man grew longer, on his head a top hat. Perhaps he is infinite people; perhaps I see him in his consecutive movements. I recognize the tall thin man dressed in black, walking toward me out of the pine Forest. Besides, they are two people. I caught her profile out of the corners of my eyes, she appears to be raising thick Bubbles in a pipe. But when I look directly she shifts to her own Priceless, Wordless, Loveless shadow. She may have been unusually beloved, the precious only daughter, because of the affection of the father lavished on her.

In Baechler's earlier work-1981-we may trace sex in the name of the Bay of Naples, in the figure of a Knot. Crime happens to reproduce in the Passion of a Hatchet and a Tongue as much as a kid's polymorphous perversion unfolds in a Composition with Suitcase, a Composition with Toy Boat or an Untitled (Toothache).

Abstract of a conversation with the artist

J - What about the title Priceless, Wordless, Loveless . . . ?

D - Don't the words say enough? I'm not looking for a literal interpretation . . . Titles are meant to reinforce the sentiment or the poetry of the image, but not to enforce a narrative. I don't like stories in paintings very much.

J - So there is not a story before you paint?

D - Never, no. Decisions are made formally, abstractly . . . I don't choose a tree because I want to paint a tree, I use a tree because it develops a certain kind of electrical charge between the figure and the tree that can only be provided by painting a tree, and not by painting a beach ball. But it's not really very important that there is a tree in a painting, it could be a banana .... If I could paint a banana it would give me the same relation to the figure as the tree; in this case I painted a tree. The paintings change constantly. I begin with a figure, and then I search for the object or the situation which I can place around the figure that will . . . you tell me.

J - About the electricity that a tree has, that a banana has, that a beach ball doesn't have?

D - Right, in relation to the figure the beach balls are a perfect counterpoint to Balzac's stomach-you know my Balzac painting?

J - Yes, I remember the woman, she is Balzac?

D - He is Balzac, the French novelist.

J - It's a pregnant man?

D - No, it's a fat man.

J - What about the white?

D - The white is a way of operating. What I'm doing is re-arranging shapes in a field . . . if the field is colored the color would be another shape and then I would have to worry about that too . . . the white shows the traces of these things being moved.

J - Being moved . . . ?

D - I'm always moving things around in paintings. Shapes are being moved slightly or radically or turned upside down. You can always see things happening underneath, well, not always but very often; I mean shapes, ball shapes or red lines, painted, overpainted. Adjustments take place over a long period of time. I choose white as the ground on which these adjustments would take place. It's a kind of a non decision, it's not a decision to use white. In fact it's not white. Mixed with yellow and black, and red at times, the white is variable, also white is colorless, it is supposed to function as a non-color.

J - A host, a pizza . . .

D - It is a whole pizza. The Bay of Naples is my first painting.

J - Galan, when he paints himself he paints you . . .

D - But it is an accident. He never saw me before . . . I wish I could paint like Julio . . . he paints like an angel.

J - You paint like a devil . . .

D - He paints with grace, and I have no grace, it is very difficult for me . . . it seems very easy for him . . . for me it is a very unnatural activity. It looks like he enjoys it, it looks like it-that he paints very easily. My paintings take months . . . there's a sequence of small decisions that have to be made . . . is the edge of this line painted correctly? Should these drips be here or not? I think about these things for a long time before I change them, or I change them a hundred times before I get them right. I feel like I'm sculpting somehow. I'm always paring away at the image.

It's very easy for me to walk away from them now. I had to train myself to do that. My tendency at first was to work on them obsessively, which means not sleeping while trying to finish a painting. More often than not I ended up destroying the painting. So I learned over the years to just walk away from it and come back next week, next month, don't get obsessed about things, or let the obsession go below the surface, it may look like a kind of coolness but it's self-preservation. I couldn't understand living with that kind of consuming obsession because I couldn't think very clearly.

I'm kind of detached from what I'm doing, sometimes, as opposed to what you say of Julio . . . I try to defer judgment as long as possible because a painting reveals itself slowly to anyone, to me . . . I wouldn't trust a painting that I've finished in one day.

J - Where's the joy?

D - There's no joy in painting itself, there's joy in having the paintings once they're finished. Painting is hard work, a not very pleasant activity, it's dirty, it's messy . . . I wouldn't say I enjoy painting . . . it doesn't come naturally to me at all.

There's an urgent need for me to have the paintings that I have made but there's no pleasure involved in making them . . . For me it's a lot about possession: the world is missing these things that I want to own, so I have to make them . . . When I was a teenager I worked in a museum as a janitor, cleaning the floors .... It was summer and the museum was closed for one month to the public. But I was still cleaning the floors every day and I felt like I owned the paintings . . . it was a marvelous feeling.

It was very unlikely that 1 would own paintings like these. I needed these things in my life and I had to start making them, there was no other way to have them. Pictures in books are not the same things. Well . . . you have a painting on the wall and you have a painting in a book, on a coffee table at your house ....

Not the photograph of a painting, but the painting . . . it wasn't the images that I wanted, it was the objects . . . so this is a big motivation in the starting to paint. My family were Quakers, Quakers don't buy paintings, Quakers believe in living with small amounts of money. So I had to make them, that is the point. I could have stolen them, I suppose, I could been pushed into a life of crime. I had keys to all storage rooms in the museum . . . the old master prints ... The desire to possess things ....

J - And people, do you want to possess them?

D - I like paid love . . .

J - Do you like to pay, or do you like to be paid?



Donald Baechler:
• Crowds; 1989; 24" x 18"
• detail of Priceless, Wordless, Loveless; 1987; 9'3" x 5'6"
• detail of Forest; 1989; 111" x 111"
• detail of Composition with Arithmatic; 1990; 51.5" x 40"

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