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Dina Gustin Baker


      Dina Gustin Baker


Power, Passion, and Imagination in the Work of Dina Gustin


By Dominique Nahas© 2012

Dina Gustin Baker, now past her mid-eighties, far from slowing down, continues to follow her painterly vision with ever-renewable versatility and inventiveness. Her oeuvre, stretching as it does over the years, is filled with emotional complexity, intellectual vivacity, as well as with formal intensity and purpose.

Through its various aesthetic ins and outs Baker’s work mirrors a soulful and daring vision that is laced with restless imagination and that evidently is always up for a challenge. Ever the experimenter, the artist is seen wrestling with new pictorial combinations, testing the interplay of contrasting spatial formats and analyzing sequences of unusual color harmonies. The result has been a constant production of paintings punctuated with irresistible verve. Baker’s susceptibilities toward variability and risk-taking are matched by equal parts rigor and mindfulness.

Baker has been a member of the New York avant-garde community for years and has participated in the storied history of its post-WW II origins. Originally born in Philadelphia she

attended the Temple Tyler School of Fine Arts in the early forties and remembers with vividness having conversations about art and artists with Dr. Barnes at the Barnes Foundation in Merion. When she received the out of town art scholarship award from Art Students League, she settled in Manhattan to further her education, she told me in an interview, she recollects her meeting with artists including Louise Nevelson at Atelier 17.  My conversations with Baker unveiled further remarkable historical nuggets. For example, she recalled with the utmost clarity her experiences at gatherings with artistic legends at the Cedar Tavern and, later, in the artistic community forming around the Hamptons in Long Island.  She casually related in matter-of-fact tone her numerous associations and memories of talks and studio visits and parties, and dinners with the Abstract Expressionist greats such Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline among others. This was the turning point that changed her artistic career for the rest of her life.

Keeping in mind this artist’s remarkable art training, her innate talents and instincts as a painter gifted with a gossamer touch and a remarkably nuanced sensitivity to color and touch, her continual studio practice over the years, as well as her historical associations and friendships with some of the leading American artists of the twentieth century it is perhaps no wonder that Baker’s art is of a highly sophisticated order.

Painterly virtuosity, forged in the iron of time, application, and intense purpose over the years makes its presence known whether it be through a figurative orientation (The Bird Lover, 1940), through a register that is semi-figurative in quality (Ladies Who Lunch, 2005. Mastery dominates whether the vision participates in the pure codes of abstract expressionism as in the remarkable Billies Blues (1954) where glints and shards of ebulliently high pitched colors such as yellows and reds are enfolded within a tumult of darkly Wagnerian tonalities or whether Baker inflects her paintings with touches of lyrical abstraction as it re-energizes a geometricized order as in (Spangles, 2007, Tango, 2009).

What is unmistakable as we look through such an array of pictorial and painterly distinction is that an individuated energy pulsates throughout Baker’s oeuvre as it has extended in all of its variety through decades.  Equally undeniable is that artist has remained resolutely committed to her preternatural sensitivity to the painterly touch in relation to compositional brio and spatial complexity.  Through it we experience her consistently agile deployment of chromatic chords that are as radiantly unexpected as they are nuanced.

The upshot of all of this, if we can permit ourselves to look the artist’s contemporaneous production in light of her early and mid career work in relation to her current work is that Dina Gustin Baker’s renowned expressiveness and expansiveness has always advanced a certain visual litheness. Her vision is alive with distilled complexity.

Such a vision has been at the continual service of what the great American poet Wallace Stevens termed “creation of resemblance by the imagination ” a phrase he used as a way to discern that metaphoric equivalencies in poetry (and in the visual arts) have little to do with identity or imitation but rather are sustained through visionary will. Through such will Dina Gustin Baker has achieved what only artistry of the first-order dares to attain: the creation over a lifetime of unforgettable paintings that resonate with impassioned grace, clarity and authenticity.



Power, Passion, and Imagination in the Work of Dina Gustin Baker

By Dominique Nahas© 2012