PRINT August 1962

John Baxter

FOR WHAT THEY ARE worth, here are a few sentences intended to describe what I think I am doing.

My raw materials are discrete objects: bits and pieces of various substances, wood, stone, metal, bone, shell and so forth.

Each object I choose is most carefully selected for its inherent qualities of texture, form and connotation—selected from among hundreds, thousands; a large part of the creative effort which goes into each finished work, is devote to the search for, and the selection of, its component parts.

The objects which enter into each finished work are altered as little as possible; generally I do no more than is required by technically sound joinery—keeping this as inconspicuous as I am able.

The component objects which I use may be virgin (shells and stones) or may be shaped by man (blocks of wood or fragments of metal)—but in all instances are in a weathered state: this invoking of the effects of the processes of nature as a common denominator, so to speak, is a part of my over-all intention.

Formally, my finished works, whether made up of few or of many elements, are conceived in terms of the most rigorous sense of balance, proportion and scale of which I am capable: my own exercise of the innate human faculty with is the source of such ancient delights as Chinese ceremonial bronzes, Cycladic figures and Japanese stone-gardens; and, to name a couple of recent manifestations, the work of Klee and of Brancusi. (In this regard, I am a confirmed traditionalist: plastic structure in art, as I perceive it, is no more subject to self-expression than is the shape of a snail’s shell, or the disposition of the wing-feathers of a bird; but let it be added, I see neither of these specific examples—nor, for that matter, any of the human productions mentioned above—as a prototype, or as a limit.)

In addition to the pleasure-giving qualities of form, texture and color inherent in my component objects, and to the architectonic values aimed at in my completed structures, I try to infuse my work with a poetry of figurative connotation; this is indicated by my titles (which are carefully chosen) and involves an ambiguous play of visual resemblance between my sculptures and the worlds both of fantasy and of objective reality—parallels sometimes playful, sometimes philosophically serious. (In this context, I am of course aware of my debt to the movements of dada and surrealism; but I think my aims, as will be seen below, are closer to those of impressionism.)

The relationship of man and nature is my large theme, even beyond the optical preoccupations of the impressionists; to phrase it in the most literal terms I can think of, an exploration of the brute facts, sensory and subjective, of any individual’s confrontation of geography, the weather and the passage of time. I think that in this I differ from a large number of contemporary artists, including some of the most talented abstract and figurative creators, who in one form or another (introspective, personal and social) are obsessed by purely human concerns and relationships. I don’t exclude this realm, but try to see it in its due perspective—as one detail in a greater pattern of experience.

John Baxter

From notes on My Aims as an Artist, 1961, John Baxter, Oakland, California sculptor. Former Curator of Education, San Francisco Museum of Art. Exhibited in the Carnegie International, Pittsburg, 1961 and the Art of Assemblage, Museum of Modern Art, 1961.

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