LOS ANGELES — Teresa Baker’s abstract wall works, on view in her solo exhibition From Joy to Joy to Joy at de boer gallery, are composed of artificial turf cut into irregular shapes and painted in vivid colors using spray paint and acrylic. She collages other materials onto these surfaces, such as dyed yarn, willow branches, buckskin, or parfleche. Some of these are direct references to her Mandan/Hidatsa heritage, but this is just one of many inspirations. The works also reflect that of some Euro-American artists, especially the soft geometries of Richard Tuttle, and the artist’s experience of the landscape and light of the Northern Plains, where she grew up. This multitude of aesthetic languages and experiences is synthesized into a unique and personal vision that comes across as warm and joyful. It feels like only Teresa Baker could produce this art.
A quick glance at the titles reveals the artist’s close relationship with place. “Yellow Prairie Grass” (2023) suggests both a field of grass seen from above and the light of a blazing sunset on a clear day with its brushy, orange-yellow gradient. “Spring Unforeseen” (2023) creates a sense of gazing upward at the night sky. The small circular pieces of parfleche seem to be stars or moons moving across an open expanse of deep blue artificial turf. Baker’s poetic handling of materials ensures that the landscape is not simply reduced to abstracted forms. Rather, the pieces exude the deep and spiritual connection to nature that she has gained from her Mandan/Hidatsa family.
Many of the works recall the irregular patches and patterns one sees from a plane window while flying over a stretch of land. Yarn and willow branches are often used to retrace the boundaries of the work or to subdivide the artificial turf into different territories. Long strands of yarn cross the length of “No Walls” (2023) horizontally and vertically, cutting the work into four quadrants. The picture plane’s division in “Paragraph of Trees” (2023) implies diamond-shaped areas that extend beyond the actual borders of the piece. I was reminded of the art of Zarina, who also used an abstract language to make evocative art about borders and belonging. Yet while Zarina emphasized the separation and displacement that boundaries produce, Baker is more interested in the constructed-ness of such boundaries and sees their overlap as spaces for expression and play.
In “From Joy to Joy to Joy” (2023) — one of the exhibition’s largest and most colorful artworks — a bright yellow path connects one end of the piece to the other. I can’t help but think that this pathway is where the artist finds joy and beauty, connecting and combining the various boundaries, identities, and histories that have shaped her.
Teresa Baker: From Joy to Joy to Joy continues at de Boer (3311 East Pico Boulevard, Boyle Heights, Los Angeles) through October 14. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.