Art preview: Lydia Bauman's new exhibition is 'a dialogue across the ages'
PUBLISHED: 15:00 11 February 2019 | UPDATED: 15:07 11 February 2019
In late 2016, Dalston resident and landscape painter Lydia Bauman was browsing an exhibition of work by the great Georgia O'Keeffe at the Tate Modern when inspiration for her latest project struck.
“I stood amongst O’Keeffe’s colourful paintings of the New Mexico desert,” says Bauman, “and I asked myself: to what extent did her paintings represent the true character of that landscape?”
Bauman left the Tate that day with a heightened curiosity to learn more about O’Keeffe: what did she respond to, and what did she leave out? How important is it for an artist to know a place well, in order to paint it well?
The drive to answer these questions led Bauman to embark on a trip to O’Keeffe’s native New Mexico, where the former did the groundwork for an epic 86 paintings of the landscape which inspired the latter.
These works – which were completed upon Bauman’s return to her studio at Stokey’s Chocolate Factory – will display at the Mall Galleries between February 25 and March 2. The exhibition is called Looking for Georgia and is Bauman’s first in London for 10 years.
“Looking for Georgia is a result of a two-year project which I have become fascinated by,” adds Bauman.
“When I came to the Tate exhibition, it was the first time I had seen O’Keeffe’s work in the flesh. I remember standing there and I realised I had to go to that place and check it out for myself. That was the beginning of the idea, and it took me six months to prepare for the trip before I travelled in September 2017.
“I packed a pair of sturdy shoes, a hat, a sketchbook and a camera, and set off to New Mexico in search of Georgia. I wanted to create my own response (to her work); it’s a kind of dialogue across the ages with another artist.”
Polish-born Bauman studied at the University of Newcastle and Courtauld Institute of Art. From there, her ‘mixed-media landscapes’ have featured in over 30 solo exhibitions spanning two decades.
Her works, which involve “combining pigments with plaster, resin, wax and other unconventional materials” will run alongside a room of photographs taken by Karl Dudman, her son, which document the pair’s travels across towns intimately linked to O’Keeffe’s life like Santa Fe, Taos and Abiquiu.
“It’s amazing that this project has lasted for so long – my passion for it hasn’t stopped for a single second and I could happily continue for six months and not be bored with it.
“Part of the excitement for this is that it has been entirely invented by myself; there is no gallery doing the publicity. I had a kickstarter campaign which raised £20,000 from 111 backers, and this gives it a bit more meaning.”
Selected landscapes featured in the Looking for Georgia exhibition include paintings of Ghost Ranch, Plaza Blanca and the Cerro Pedernal, which O’Keeffe spoke of as “my private mountain. It belongs to me. God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.” She did so 28 times.
Two weeks out from the exhibition’s opening, Bauman says Looking for Georgia is for “people with a sense of adventure; those who would enjoy looking at something colourful, exotic and luminous.
“I think some women might enjoy the idea of this collaboration from a mother and a son. Our travels were remarkably conflict-free although he did at some point say he was surprised at how much looking after I needed! We’re going to do another couple of collaborations – one in Morocco and another in Japan.”
Reflecting on how a leisurely wander around a Tate exhibition has turned in to one of the biggest projects of her career, Bauman says: “It was immensely moving and inspiring to follow in the footsteps of this great American painter.
“I learned a lot by looking at and sketching the very locations where she lived, walked and painted, and directly comparing them to her paintings.
“I set out to create a body of work which might evoke in the viewer a response as powerful and as visceral as the landscape of New Mexico itself.”
Lydia Bauman’s exhibition: Looking for Georgia, New Mexico in the Footsteps of Georgia O’Keefe, is on at The Mall Galleries, SW1Y 5AH, from February 25 to March 2. Entry is free. More details are here.