30 Year Retrospective Exhibition
2nd – 30th October, 2008
Introduction by the Curator Marlene Ferrer
Thirty years ago Marshall Baron, Rhodesian lawyer and music lover, broke artistic boundaries with his avant-garde style of painting. His bold scale, texture, colour and application provoke attention and recognition.
The gentle soul of a musician, the smile of an angel, combined with the rational clarity of a lawyer, belied the fierce, almost intimidating personality of the artist. Marshall Baron was on fire to express the powerful emotions one can presume to compare with Handel, whose music he so loved.
The naked canvas is attacked by Baron with what appears to be impulsive, careless freedom, but in his strikingly decorative rectangles, reveals both basic compositional structure and cool deliberation in balancing vivid tones with intellectual subtlety.
The complexity of Marshall, reflecting modern man per se also reveals the primitive man within, in his gigantic hieroglyphics, heavy impasto and pulsing rhythms.
Although a temporal student of Ben Shahn at his Summer School of Art in Skowhegan, Maine, one sees the parallel with Kandinsky. Both Baron and Kandinsky were professional men inspired by music, pedantic in their dress, withdrawn in public and volatile in their expression on canvas.
Recognised in the 1960’s, acquired by Southern African National Galleries of Art and promoted by the renowned Goodman Gallery, this retrospective of Marshall Baron’s work at Gebo Art Space, [brought from numerous collectors in Israel] aspires to revive the name, Marshall Baron.
This exhibition is an inspiration to the Israeli public, who know how to read Non -Objective Art, as in Lea Nikel, and like Southern Africans can identify with the trauma of a country constantly on the edge, where issues of human rights and religious conservatism clash daily with liberalism and emotional volatility.
As if aware of his short-levity, Marshall explored and developed his art with velocity and perseverance, leaving us a complete body of work to reckon with.
This is more than a retrospective, it is a message from the past.
Dr. Dalia Hakker-Orion Talks about Baron’s Art
The third retrospective exhibition of the artist Marshall Baron reveals before the Israeli audience master pieces which can be compared to the paintings of the great American artists from the 50th and 60th. They reveal a “renaissance men”‘ his complex and versatile personality, his sensitivity and sense of humor.
Marshall Baron (1934-1977), was born in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) to a Jewish family, was a successful lawyer who alongside his profession used to write about music in a local newspaper. According to his sister Merle he was attracted to music from a young age and used to stand on a chair and wave his hands, conducting an imaginary orchestra. During his law studies he took part in a group exhibition and used to paint in his free time. His first known painting “The Dutch Home” was painted in 1948 and since 1960 he gained recognition, acquired by Southern African Museums, promoted by the renowned Goodman Gallery and sent to Skowhegan School of Art in Maine, U.S.A where he studied for 3 consequent summers. He exhibited in South Africa, U.S.A and Zimbabwe and his works are in the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and in private collections.
The stay in the United States had a very strong impact on him both
professionally as an artist and personally. He was convinced he had to leave the figurative paintings and devote his time to abstract paintings. The freedom of the “Flowers Generation” fascinated him and even though it was contrary to his profession, external attire and habits and characters it penetrated his paintings and provoked his more inhibited, primitive inner feelings. This duality can be seen in the visual struggle between the expressive brushstrokes and the cloisonistic geometrical shapes. Eventhouh his teacher was Ben Shahn his original style corresponds with Hans Hoffman, Piet Mondrian, Willem De Koning and Motherwell. It is also possible to detect correspondence with the North European Experimental group-The COBRA. He dedicated a special serie, which is in the U.S.A, to Hans Hoffman, but also in the works exhibited in this exhibition one can see the “Hoffmanic” combination between virtuous expressionistic brush strokes and choice of colors and combination of geometrical and hard shaped forms. The most common geometrical forms in his paintings are the squares, rectangles, circles and triangles. Alongside there are the same biomorphic and undefined closed areas, appearing in the different painting like v.e. in “Christopher Robin’s Vespers” and “Hi the Same to you”. In order to bring to equilibrium his inner dichotomy, he tries to calm the emotional overflow by the organization of the compositions and the closing of the areas in defined spaces, but sometimes the emotional aspect is more dominant. Like in nature the harmony and the wholeness are created by combining opposite elements-Yin and Yang. .
He found his freedom in painting after work hours, listening to music in the background. He loved especially Bach, Handel, Bartok and many others and one can feel the energy, rhythms and musical flow while watching his paintings. At the beginning the measurements of the paintings were small but gradually they became bigger, and some of them were bigger than 3 meters. On these big formats he could materialize the stormy energies within him more easily. The big formats are also due to the influence of the American painters, especially from the Abstract Expressionist group who talked about the “The sense of the wide spaces”. Alongside the big painting he continued to create small works in order to sell them, and the special energetic quality of his works can also detected in them.
The paintings reveal his sensitivity and his search and wanderings concerning personal and collective issues, Judaism, human relations and existentional situations. They are podium for communication, conveying of feelings and special moments in his life and testify on the unusual richness of his inner life. His works are a melting pot to his versatile personality and to his expertise in the field of music and his wide knowledge in literature, philosophy and science. Their names, given after he finished painting, testify his interdisciplinary capacities and knowledge and associative-surrealistic encounters. They can be divided according to their origins to several groups: names from the world of music- “The year of the Fugue”, “counterpoint”, “Sonnet”, “Lyrical Gesture”. Names connected to artists- “After Hans Hoffman”, “Mondrian in the Village”. Times and places: “Summer Exposure”, “Is April the Cruelest?”, “After the Desertion”, “Sunday Afternoon”, “February Remembered”, ” 22 August 1975″,”The Anniversary”, “In the Beginning”. Jewish issues- “In the Beginning”‘ “The Seder Table”, ” Chassidic Rites”,”and Convenant-The Jew in…”.Stories, plays philosophy and legends-“Christopher Robin’s Vespers, “Ali Baba”, “Pirates Hideout”, “Design for Aristos”, “Summer Night Dream”, “Elfin Voyage”, “Proverbs”, “Second Eclogue”, “Vernal Carnival”. Diverse- “Puffing Billy”‘ Mr. Prufrock at Cape”, “Witch Doctor’s Incantation”, May be the Yetti ate up the…” Science- “Galactic Story”, “Kaputch Comet”. Personal happenings- “Perhaps it never was?”, “Call me back Colorado” and many other interesting subjects. Technically he combines collages which include newspaper clips from the period (60th, 70th), which enhances the textural quality of the works and at the same time are informative anchors and a peeping windows to the period. Some of the titles are relevant like in the painting “In the Beginning”, dealing with Judaism the title is: “Searching for a Rabbi”, in other cases they are used as the name of the painting. Other materials, like rectangles and squares made from door mats or circles from thick paper, used as background for the flowers in the invitation.
The rich textural quality is also achieved by using modeling pastes, different mediums and combining the pigments with additional materials. The use of oil colors and acrylic ones, letting them drip freely on the backgrounds enhances the abundance of the energetic qualities. The chromatic quality is achieved by a vivid unrestraint use of combinations of colors, including the combinations of pairs of complimentary colors: blue and orange (” Summer Exposure 2″‘ “Hi, Same to You”), red and green (“Untitled 1969, “In the Beginning”) and yellow and purple (“The Anniversary”).
The clear expressive quality is tempered by the geometrical forms and by familiar images like the arrows (“Turn Right at Greenwich”), the human figure (Christopher Robin’s Vespers”), the letters and the numbers. They are like road signs that testify the search and suggest and point the way.
The coherence in his artistic search manifests itself in developing the initial motives and images which appeared already in his first painting (“Dutch Home 1948): the windows, houses, people, flowers, which continue to appear in different variations along his artistic journey.
A big distance passed Marshall Baron from the “Dutch House” through ‘Summer Exposure” to the amazing paintings from the last years like: “Perhaps it never was?” (1977, 300X150). His works commemorate his unique talent and prove not only that they were but that they continue to exist and will continue to enrich and touch the hearts of the people watching them.
Artist Pamela Silver shares her memories on Marshall Baron
Marshall was the most beautiful person, in every way. A truly spiritual man with the most beautiful sparkling blue eyes -eyes the color of the Bulawayo sky. Twinkling shining blue eyes.
He was an artists’ artist -painting from a place deep in his heart and soul. Each painting unique, each composition, a world in itself.
I first spent time with Marshall when I was a child of seven and went to stay for three weeks with the Barons at 7, Lawley Road, Suburbs, Bulawayo in their most beautiful big house.
It had so many wonderful rooms (enough to accommodate the large family and many visitors), amazing food, rubber trees to climb and fantastic garden filled with flowers of every color and size.
But best of all was Marshall and his studio. As I climbed the stairs it was on the left hand side and I would love to creep inside there and watch Marshall paint, to smell the paints, to see the canvases of all shapes and sizes and to drift into his world of fantasy and color.
I also loved to hear the music that Marshall played all the time on the gramophone, much of which I had never heard before. There was a room next to the lounge, just jammed packed with records and Marshall would play this amazing music very loudly and I would hear tones and sounds that I had never heard before and Marshall would absorb the music and I could see it energizing his soul.
I think I fell in love with Marshall all seven years of me. He was so gentle and kind and magical with the most amazing energy and softness.
When I was older I think my mother fell in love with Marshall. He used to come and visit and we would all sit on the verandah, as the sun went down, and she would talk and he would talk to her, and he would bring his paintings and all three of us would observe these paintings, the like of which had not been seen in Bulawayo – a little town filled with an amazingly active Jewish community but not too much art or art galleries available. Johannesburg one stop on the plane seemed to have all the delights that Bulawayo lacked.
It was as though Marshall and my mother could talk and think about art and music and literature, feelings thoughts and emotions.
But Bulawayo had something no where else in the world had.
The Matobo Hills and this was a place that Marshall loved very dearly and would love to run all the way there with his four dogs. It was about 20 kilometers away.
To me this is the most beautiful magical place in the world – it is the place where the Bushmen chose to fill the caves with their art and it is the most spiritual and sacred place to the local people. It remains untouched to this day and I hope for time immemorial. It is filled with animals and birds buck and monkeys and the local people live amongst nature in their huts made from straw and mud. They make baskets and carve in wood and stone and it is there that I think Marshall found peace and energy.
This place I feel was a great inspiration for Marshall’s paintings and here I feel the colors and the primitive African symbols in his work originate. Some one told me Marshall had a studio right in the middle of the Matobo hills – what an amazing dream. I always wished I could have had one there too and maybe shared it with Marshall.
Marshall loved Bulawayo so much, the people and most of all the beauty of nature. His colors are so magnificent that only one who understands and lives nature could created with the heavenly colors found in his work.
The beautiful flowers from his mother’s Rachel’s garden are in many paintings, so wonderful in “Summer Exposure II”C 1971, 160×160 cm. and in the invitation painting “Flowers for Algernon” I see the family of 6 flowers, 2 parents and 4 children.
The beautiful autumnal light and colors that one can only feel in the Bulawayo sunlight we see in the large yellow painting “Perhaps it never was” 1974, 300 x 150 cm. and the heavy rains pounding on the windows – the precious rain that we so longed for and when it came it came with thunder and lightening and filled the gardens streets and wide open roads. These we see light sheets of color in the pair of lighter colored paintings –”untitled” 130×150 one and two.
Marshall painted the country of his birth with a freedom and intensity, a love and warmth and above all, a belief in life and mankind that only Marshall could feel.
Thank you Marshall for allowing us to see your world, to feel your feelings of depth, your amazing spirit, energy and intensity and to hear your music move us through this magical journey.
Pamela Silver, B.A. Artist, www.pamelasilver.com