Rushern Baker: A middle ground

Q. Have you always known you’d be a Master of Fine Arts?

A. Yeah. Growing up, I did a lot of social work and political work, both political art and actual work on campaigns, since my father is a politician in Maryland. I feel like there can be a bridge between the two; politics is kind of polarized right now, so I don’t see how I can be an effective participant.

Q. So your art is meant to express moderation?

A. That’s true. My practice is about compromising or opposing ideas – freedom and restraint; freedom from architectural spaces. Like with that section of the painting where the materials are thick enough to stick out in another direction, another dimension; that’s the expression of a possibility. It’s not realized, but it’s there.

Q. You’re known to add to your paintings long after others might consider them “finished”. How do you know when to stop working?

A. I don’t think a painting is ever really finished. For now, these are done – I’m ready to talk about them and present them. But they’re not concretely done. I can still add something – or take something away. I’ve done both.

Q. Two of your paintings make use of brick backgrounds. Is that meant to invoke all institutions, or a certain kind of institution — say, a school?

A. I think about institutions in general, and the grinding down of hierarchical structures, whether they’re financial in our country or somewhere else in the world – that kind of angst. The structures are here in their entirety, but there’s a moment when they break down … I’m interested in the art form that comes out of a spontaneous combustion.

Q. I also notice that this painting is shiny. What kinds of unusual materials do you use?

A. I paint on aluminum to get that reflective effect and adhere it to the canvas. I’ve mixed paint with tile adhesive and acrylic paint with concrete. There’s no huge art supply store in New Haven that is affordable, so we’ve all learned to appreciate Home Depot.

Contact Aaron gertler at

aaron.gertler@yale.edu .

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