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Solitude like grass: Forty-five years of the art of Dwight Baird

Exhibition Review
The retrospective exhibition on view at Salle Alfred-Langevin in Huntingdon provides a unique opportunity to observe the evolution of artist Dwight Baird’s work over the past forty-five years, his shift from watercolour to acrylics, experiments applying and manipulating paint, and his increasing skill at moving the viewer’s eye around within a painting’s composition.

Baird counts painters Alex Colville and Andrew Wyeth among his influences, and, like them, Baird is a proponent of tight, almost other-worldly realism, and he possesses the ability to create an atmosphere of stillness even when depicting action. A master of perspective and a subtle colourist, Baird’s highly detailed paintings are easy to appreciate for their technical prowess alone. Looking beyond the surface, the viewer is rewarded by paintings that probe psychologically.

Baird often composes pictures which manage to be both intimate and remote. Some of his landscapes are unpopulated. When people do appear, they are shown from the back, the side, with their heads and limbs cropped out of the frame, or as objects in cityscapes dominated by cars. Shown up close, human subjects turn away from us, seemingly distracted by their own thoughts. Isolation and ambiguity run through the work

In Runner (2022), one of the larger paintings in the show, Baird invites us into a daytime industrial landscape. A jogging man is shown from the back. Our eye bounces between the runner and the sky. Is that the leftover moon still there, or a pallid late-winter sun? The viewer and the runner are alone here in either peaceful solitude or loneliness – together, but not connected.

Heading South (2000) is a small, dark watercolour and ink sketch that shows trucks heading towards a glowing horizon, beyond which we see nothing. Again, the time of day is difficult to read. It could be the light of a distant city shining beyond the hill or the last light of the sun. The mundane is made both melancholy and mysterious.

The ink and watercolour Miles to Go Before I Sleep is a preparatory sketch for a larger finished painting. We are in a night-time landscape near a highway. The figure of a solitary woman dominates the foreground just right of the centre. Is she crying or merely tired? What is the significance of the truck in the distance? Are we witnessing the aftermath of some sad event? Or is the story more benign?

Baird leaves us guessing.

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