Early Work by Donald Baechler Shows His Pursuit of What’s Important

Jul 13, 2016 3:48PM
Abstract painting with policeman , 1986
Lars Bohman Gallery

Although you might not guess it from his figurative, minimalistic abstractions, New York–based artist Donald Baechler is something of a hoarder. Call it scavenging or collecting, if you want, but for as long as he can remember, Baechler has been accumulating stuff—maps, doodles, found photographs, scraps of wallpaper, discarded lists, you name it. Baechler is the moth; the ephemera is his candle.

Die Fahne hoch, 1984
Lars Bohman Gallery
Abstrakt Bild mit Baum, 1985
Lars Bohman Gallery

“I hold onto absolutely everything,” the artist once conceded. “I save images in many different forms; I save them in endless file cabinets. I have slide binders with thousands and thousands of slides that I work from.”

Those sundries may not wind up in his artwork, per se, yet Baechler assures us they’re all there. “[M]ost of the things I photograph never find their way into a painting,” he has said, “and most of the things I save and catalog and photocopy never really find their way into a work.” Nevertheless, he said, “It’s necessary to accumulate all of these things to get to the point of what’s important.”

One, Two, Three, 1983
Lars Bohman Gallery

Donald Baechler Early Works,” a recent exhibition at Lars Bohman Gallery in Stockholm, provided a unique glimpse into the nascent stages of his practice and the evolution of “what’s important.”

Although it may not be immediately obvious, his works are loaded with visual language. Spend a while with a Baechler painting and each of the diverse elements will emerge, gradually at first, then flooding from the collage-like surface and the seemingly childish imagery and minimalistic formalism.

Image courtesy of Lars Bohman Gallery.

For Baechler, “what’s important” is the unique impression made by a collection of diverse iconographies mined from pop culture, intimate personal history, and allusions to the past and future, not to mention the spoils of the everyday. In navigating the sacred space of childhood as well as the rudiments of folk and outsider art, Baechler’s paintings intertwine multiple sources and inspirations, refiguring and ultimately regurgitating the playful amalgamation onto canvas.

Not that the artist sets out knowing what that amalgamation will look like. He enjoys the exploration, the discovery. “For me, if I know what the painting’s going to look like, there’s not really any reason to paint it,” Baechler has said. “If I’m not learning something, there’s no reason to do it.”

—Grace-Yvette Gemmell

Donald Baechler Early Works” was on view at Lars Bohman Gallery, Stockholm, Jun. 2–Jul. 2, 2016.

Follow Lars Bohman Gallery on Artsy.