Artist Bhakti Baxter Breaks Brand
by brett sokol
Bhakti Baxter inside Wynwood’s Gallery Diet with his new sculpture, Root Beer
If you want to tick Bhakti Baxter off, just tell him how much you love his artwork. Specifically, compliment the drawings and paintings he created during the middle of the last decade—from a darkly inked scene of young children blowing soap bubbles that warp and woof into a foreboding dreamscape, to a gorgeous portrait in oil of his late grandmother, so steeped in melancholy grace that its bluish hue practically envelops the viewer.
|Imploded Ball Barf, (cosmic yolk residue of transformation, mom’s garage), 2011|
Yet nothing in that vein is on display at Baxter’s exhibition at Wynwood’s Gallery Diet. Instead, he’s fashioned an array of abstract sculptures, paper collages, and most strikingly, 13 different Imploded Ball Barf assemblages—from soccer balls to basketballs, each split open to spew forth brightly colored “cosmic residue.” If this stylistic shift confused anyone, Baxter says, so be it. “I still get e-mails from people interested in buying those older pieces,” he explains with a grimace, sitting inside Gallery Diet. “That was five years ago—sorry!”
This is more than mere petulance on Baxter’s part. Tossing aside one’s established “brand” is potentially destructive to an artist’s bankability. And it may explain Baxter’s departure from the stable of prominent Miami gallerist Fredric Snitzer, a subject Baxter is loath to address beyond describing himself as a “free agent in Miami… They were a good seven years working with Fred. Things change and you move on.” (Snitzer has previously declined to speak publicly on the split.) Baxter isn’t exactly forsaking that earlier body of work—Gallery Diet has just published a lavish career monograph, XYZ 2001–2011. But extended talk about paintings conjures up a pained look once again.
“I’m not a firm believer in the point of view that says an artist should find a certain material or technique and invest themselves in it. Some people take a lot of comfort in that. I get bored. I would be really depressed if I was still making the same work as five years ago.” He likens it to a popular band playing its big hit singles over and over. “Thank God the Beatles broke up! They said what they wanted and then went off to do their own things. The Rolling Stones are still playing the same [riffs]. They’re still the ‘kings of rock,’ still making tons of money, still hooking up with hot girls. But in their peer group, who really has respect for them? They’re so irrelevant, it’s embarrassing.”
photographs courtesy of bhakti baxter and gallery diet (artworks); jim arbogast (baxter)