Since 1987, Swiss artist Francis Baudevin has painted geometric motifs culled from pharmaceutical packaging, book covers and corporate logos. Stripped of all textual and contextual references, the imagery is blown up (at least tenfold) and meticulously copied to canvas, creating hard-edged artworks with a pop palette that seamlessly interweave the legacies of high modernism and mass-culture appropriation.
In his second solo show at art: concept, Baudevin took his motifs from record album packaging, thus combining two long-standing interests: he collects albums and earned his living as a graphic designer prior to becoming an artist. In the front gallery were six paintings (all 2009) that derive from the album cover of Original Oldies vol. 19, one of a series of budget LPs that Springboard International Records issued in the â??70s. The buttery yellow walls of the gallery quoted the record jacketâ??s yellow ground. The canvases, ranging from 30 to 91 inches on a side, feature one to four circles, squares or parallelograms in pink, plum, lime green, pumpkin or persimmon, stacked or placed side by side against black backgrounds trimmed in pink. Each painting is named for one of the hit tunes from Original Oldies, including Maybe (The Shangri-Las), Hey Joe (The Leaves) and Surfin Bird (The Trashmen). No trace of the artistâ??s hand is evident, and the imposing colors often clash, creating jarring optical effects.
Baudevinâ??s work depends as much on the rigors of geometry and the power of color as it does on popular culture for its enduring interest. Accordingly, he cites disparate influences, from Mondrian to Lichtenstein and Warhol. He is equally indebted to Swiss forebears like Max Bill, Richard Paul Lohse and Verena Loewensberg, all of whom endeavored to bridge the perceived gulf between the fine arts and graphic design.
In recent years, Baudevin has extended his efforts into the realm of photography. The 13 untitled C-prints in the back gallery (all 2009 and 16 inches square) also took music packaging as their point of departure, depicting blank white sleeves from albums in Baudevinâ??s personal collection resting atop their respective jackets. Sections of the jacket design can be seen through the central circular cutout of the sleeve and around the edges. Through the play of transparency and opacity, Baudevin highlights certain figurative and geometric forms, although the standard format of record albums curtails any obvious subjectivity.
Baudevin has never been interested in political critique, preferring to draw attention to the prevalence of graphic arts in the contemporary world. In his methodically constructed yet arresting compositions, he confirms that the histories of modernism and commercial design are fundamentally entangled.
Photo: Francis Baudevin: Untitled, 2009, C-print, 16 inches square; at art: concept.