Balancing Limitation and Freedom 9

Artist Stella Maria Baer shares the progression 
of her artistic endeavors.

Painter and Photographer Stella Maria Baer grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, surrounded by the arts culture. Her mother was a weaver and her father owned an art gallery; her grandmother and grandfather were a sculptor and photographer, respectively. Although she describes art as the landscape of her childhood, she didn’t envision a career in it until after college.

At first, her paintings and drawings were something she performed in secret, not feeling pulled to share her work with anyone else. In graduate school, Baer landed a job as a studio and research assistant for artist Titus Kaphar.

“Titus cast a vision for me for of what it meant to be a working artist,” says Baer. He gave me critiques on my paintings and answered questions I had about paint and color. Titus taught me to treat my work as something sacred.”

She enrolled in studio classes in painting and drawing — one class even consisted of creating one hundred paintings a week! During this process of rapid growth, between studio classes and critiques with Kaphar, Baer transitioned her work from being private to public. She also came to the realization that she wanted to be a painter. After her graduate thesis show, she began selling her pieces and, eventually, stepped out into the world to paint full-time.

“In my work, I explore the mythology of the desert and the cosmology of space,” says Baer. “When I was in high school, I wanted to leave New Mexico and never come back. I went to college and graduate school in the Northeast and never thought I’d live in the West again. But a couple years ago, I drove through the Mojave Desert and Navajo Nation, places we’d gone to on road trips growing up but that I had forgotten. When I got back to the northeast, I was haunted by those places. My work since then has been a way of coming to terms with the pull I feel back to the southwest. I’ve found in painting moons and planets a way to bleed out my memory of growing up in the desert while still moving into another space.”

Baer goes on to explain how before she started painting spheres, she often felt “distracted” by accidental things that occurred in her paintings like colors bleeding together.

“I’d often force myself to focus on the subject at hand. But as time went on I decided I needed to explore the things I had dismissed as distractions — the moments in my painting that felt out of control and more like play than anything else. For a while, I made abstract color studies. Then I saw a photograph of a lunar eclipse, and I made a painting of the moon. In the sphere, I found a balance of limitation and freedom, a way I could experiment with color and bleeds within a space that felt both abstract and definite, infinite and finite,” says Baer.

“Painting has always seemed like being pregnant to me, now more than ever that my husband Seth and I are expecting a baby in September. My ideas for paintings usually start off as secrets, as a desire to make something that returns again and again, growing within me, becoming stronger and, eventually, ends up outside myself, with a life of its own,” says Baer.

Baer lives and works in Denver.

StellaMariaBaer.com

“Then I saw a photograph of a lunar eclipse, and I made a painting of the moon. In the sphere, I found a balance of limitation and freedom, a way I could experiment with color and bleeds within a space that felt both abstract and definite, infinite and finite.”

“In my work, I explore the mythology of the desert and the cosmology of space.”