Many painters are inspired by the landscape, but few actually take the use of landscape as far as Colorado-based painter and photographer Stella Maria Baer. Working in both photography and painting, Baer takes inspiration from the dramatic desert-scapes of her childhood in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and often uses raw pigments from the desert soil in her work. This summer she is also offering the opportunity to share in her knowledge of natural pigments in a workshop on making watercolours from Joshua Tree sand and cacti.
The desert may sound a rather austere environment to inform an artist’s work, but Baer’s creations have a real warmth and intimacy to them. Her subjects encompass the body and the cosmos as well as the desert, but all feature the distinctive flesh pink tones of the Mojave Desert. Whether working in her beautiful home studio, or setting up an easel in the desert itself, her art is sensual, tactile, and rooted deep in the earth.
Baer was brought up in an artistic family – her mother was a weaver, her father owned a gallery – but initially studied philosophy. Her move into painting was gradual, but, she says now, felt like trying “to learn a language I’d been trying to speak for a while but didn’t quite know how.” A road trip to New Mexico, during which she photographed the landscape familiar from her childhood, had a profound effect on her painting. “I was haunted by the colours and lines of the canyons,” she told Crixeo magazine. “My work since then has been a meditation on the pull I feel to this part of the country. [My paintings] are a way of understanding the sense of being at home in a place that looks like another world.”
Recent motherhood expanded her subject matter to include the female body. However for Baer the cosmos, the desert and the body are all linked, and her use of pigments made from the sand and soil reflect this deep connection. “My paintings of moons and the human figure are made from the same watercolours,” she says, “the same pigments drawn from the sands of the desert, from dust. Our relationships with the landscape, with the cosmos and with each other are all intertwined.”
All images courtesy of Stella Maria Baer. To buy prints or photography by Stella Maria Baer, or to find out more about her watercolour workshop, visit her website.