A year and a half ago, when I was visiting her in her Princeton home to talk about the Princeton Artists Alliance project for Princeton’s sister city, Colmar, France, Hetty Baiz fascinated me when she mentioned that she uses her own body to create her latest artworks. Her exhibit, This Very Body, can be seen at the Tenri gallery in New York through March 26.
Ms. Baiz produces life-size collage prints, alluding to the human form while maintaining formal interest, she writes. Her media is varied and her supports range from canvas or paper to wood panel. The artist sees the physical state as a manifestation of transience; a presence developing in constant flux and transformation.
When she works, Ms. Baiz becomes one with her work, immolating it, marking it, gluing tissues to it or actually stamping it with her painted body part. In this way she continues to build up her pictorial planes turning them into dimensional constructions; at times via her paper edges curling, or through the use of thick impastos of paint or even with layers of plaster.
As a practicing Buddhist, Ms. Baiz often incorporates text from Zen writings into her works. An example of such a work is her Lotus Land in which one of her bodies appears to be inscribed with the words “This very place is the Lotus land. This very body is the Buddha.” Ms. Baiz’s beliefs relate to Buddhist teachings for as in her earlier quoted statement, she believes in the ephemeral nature of life.
Here’s a story I wrote about her in 2002, titled “Women Who Run With the Fauves.” It even includes a recipe for a wonderful salad she brought, in a beautiful ceramic bowl, to a potluck I once attended.
Daughters are often told they look like their mothers, but how often is a daughter told her paintings resemble her mother’s?
It all began in the 1950s when Hetty Baiz was growing up in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. She came out in her pajamas one morning and discovered her mother playing with paint. “I had an immediate connection to the wild messy abstract paintings she created,” says Ms. Baiz, a svelte woman with dark hair, blue eyes and a sonorous voice.
The elder Ms. Baiz would leave home on the 5 a.m. bus to make the five-hour trip to New York City, where she studied with Hans Hofmann, the “father of abstract expressionism.” She’d paint all day and night, then return 24 hours later. Instead of feeling wiped out, she’d be high off the class, her daughter recalls.
“My mother painted every day of her life. Instead of food in the refrigerator, there’d be clay,” says Ms. Baiz.
Hans Hofmann sketched beside Matisse and an admirer of Mondrian, Miró and Kandinsky. He was considered a fauve in spirit. Fauve, literally translated, means wild beast, and the fauves were a group of artists, including Matisse, Duchamp, Braque and Derain, who wildly applied color. Elizabeth Baiz studied with Hofmann for six years, translating his notes from German. She also studied welding. “She was the only female and the only non-convict in the class,” says Ms. Baiz. “The convicts were learning welding for plumbing, while my mother made roosters and fish.”
Opportunities for adventurous women who wildly splashed paint on canvas were limited in 1950s Wilkes-Barre, where paintings of covered barns were favored, so much of Elizabeth Baiz’s energy was diverted into nurturing her daughter’s creative persona.
“When I was a senior in high school my mother said, ‘How would you like to go to Cornell and study with Friedal Dzubus?’ He was one of the color field painters, along with Helen Frankenthaler. It was the next generation of Hans Hofmann, pushing abstract expressionism into the direction of poured stained canvas. It was more loose and lyrical.”
And so it was off to Cornell for Ms. Baiz that summer, then to Bard College in Anandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., in the fall, where Ms. Baiz majored in art. Bard offered an excellent art program, but after her sophomore year, Ms. Baiz sought something less provincial. While summering in Tunkhannock, Pa., Ms. Baiz and her mother packed the car with her paintings and drove 90 minutes to Ithaca, N.Y.
“I hadn’t filled out an application or anything,” she said. They parked themselves in the Cornell art department and showed her paintings to all the faculty members who walked through. Then, of all people, Friedal Dzubus walked by.
“He said, ‘If you want to come, you should come.’ He called the chairman of the department and said he should let me in.”
Ms. Baiz set up an appointment to be interviewed by the chairman. “He looked at my work and told me he didn’t like it. And I cried. He was very demanding. Then he said, ‘You can come.'” Even Ms. Baiz was shocked.
At Cornell, Ms. Baiz studied with Gillian Pederson-Krag. “She was a realist, but spiritual in her approach to art. She would have a model sitting under the skylights with shafts of light running down her nose. Mozart would be playing the background, and I got turned on by realism. At first I fought it, but then I had a breakthrough. I learned to be in awe of light as a spiritual experience and developed a fascination with darkness.”
Looking at Ms. Baiz’s paintings, you can almost hear the music she paints to. Her mother liked to listen to the Brandenburg Concerti, Vivaldi and Ravi Shankar when she painted. Ms. Baiz prefers dissonant 20th century music, such as Bartók and Stravinsky.
To be able to continue life as an artist, Ms. Baiz has been a career chameleon. She has worked as a systems engineer for IBM, director of an environmental organization in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., supervisor of a marine biology program in Maine and recipe tester for the Moosewood Cookbook.
While at Cornell, she met Molly Katzen, another art student and soon-to-be author of the vegetarian cookbook series based on Ithaca’s famed Moosewood Restaurant. Ms. Baiz was happy to help out a friend working on a handwritten cookbook.
Several years after Cornell, Ms. Baiz had her first show in New York. She invited Jim Perry, a sculptor she had dated while at Bard. The relationship was renewed and they moved into his loft, a converted garment factory in the flower district. He continued to sculpt and work as a carpenter, while Ms. Baiz worked at part-time jobs to continue painting. By the time the couple hit their 30s and realized their income for the year was $4,000, Ms. Baiz decided to pursue an MBA at Columbia University. “I always wondered what went on in all those tall buildings in New York,” she said.
After three years at IBM, Ms. Baiz gave birth to her first child, Christian. The only place for him to play in the warehouse district was a sand pit behind the supermarket, so the young family moved to Princeton, where Mr. Perry’s uncle, Jimmy Stuart, had gone to school. Ms. Baiz got a studio at Artworks in Trenton.
Just as the family was settling in, Ms. Baiz had the opportunity to head an environmental organization in Wilkes-Barre, so they uprooted for three years, then returned to Princeton with their second son, Alex.
In 1996, she and her mother had a joint show at the Anne Reid Gallery at Princeton Day School. Ms. Baiz’s work has been in group shows at the Philadelphia Sketch Club, Ellarslie in Trenton, the Stony Brook Gallery in Pennington, the Hunterdon Art Center in Clinton and at Artworks.
The artist and her husband have converted a garage into their studios, separated by a wall.
|HETTYBAIZ’S BOK CHOY SALAD
1-2 bunches bok choy, chopped, including green
1 bunch scallions, chopped
¾ cup slivered almonds
¾ cup unsalted sunflower seeds
1 package ramen noodles (discard flavor packet)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/3 cup white vinegar
½ cup sugar
½ cup canola oil
Mix dressing and set aside. Pound noodles with a kitchen mallet. Toss together salad ingredients
and dressing, and serve in a beautiful ceramic bowl.
Ms. Baiz’s father, a history teacher and naturalist, would take her for walks and bring back wildflowers to identify. “I never learned the names, but he created an awareness in me, and I realize how much he influenced me. He taught me the constellations. I was not into identifying them but intuitively I was drinking it up.”