Nikos Baikas

For more than a decade Nikos Baikas has been creating enigmatic works in black and white. In his most recent drawings on paper, lead pencil lines have been so densely applied that the paper supports seem to merge with their skinlike surfaces. The result is paper that has been rendered so relieflike by bulges and dents that it resembles a sheet of lead. The compositions are tightly structured, with an acute surface tension, and the images that appear are highly stylized. Any modeling is minimal, and pictorial depth is scant, so the viewer must dig deep and hard to discern the objects hidden within these cryptic pieces.

Baikas’ work represents an obsessive distillation of various strategies lifted from different genres and periods in the history of art, but he is not in the least concerned with appropriation. His hermetic images for the most part engage formal issues, such as balance, symmetry, light and shadow, and the two-dimensional nature of the picture plane. It is necessary to take note of the way he places objects onto the surface—objects one inevitably reads as abstract forms—to appreciate the work. By manipulating his imagery in oblique ways, Baikas comments on the difficulties faced by the contemporary artist as image-maker, self-consciously invoking the impossibility of creating a believable space through illusionistic techniques. He inverts traditional compositional formulas, emphasizing the flatness of his surfaces and the frontality of his images. By stressing the central axis, horizontals, diagonals, and curves, he pushes all the forms onto a frontal plane that is almost uniformly light or dark, thus “flattening” the work rather than creating a window onto a particular scene, even in the drawings that depict interior spaces.

Baikas’ approach may seem only to invert traditional principles of artmaking, but the techniques he applies enable him to go beyond merely formal concerns. Though these highly charged, at times haunting images often begin with figuration, his work coaxes the viewer not to stop at the picture’s mysterious “skin” but instead to delve underneath in order to discover its conceptual underpinnings.

Catherine Cafopoulos