By Bonnie Gangelhoff
Oregon painter Mitch Baird, 37, was shocked and elated when he heard the good news. His painting garnered the top award at the annual American Impressionist Society show, held in October at Saks Galleries in Denver, CO. “I was both honored and humbled to be chosen by juror Quang Ho, whom I so much admire and look up to,” Baird says.
The winning painting, MORNING ENSIGNS, VENICE, originated from a trip he took to the Italian city two years ago. “I was actually up early one morning on my way to San Marco Square to get reference photos and paint the area before the crowds showed up,” Baird recalls. “I turned onto this particular street and looked into the light and the Italian flags were lit up like firecrackers. I had walked this street before, but in this light and with no crowds, it was something special.”
Baird explains that for the past several years, when it came time to enter contests, he always selected landscapes. This time he decided to try something different and enter a city scene with figures in it. It proved a fortuitous move; the painting also won the Southwest Art Award of Excellence. While some artists may lean toward working in one particular genre—landscape, figurative, or still life—Baird is comfortable in all three. The reason, he explains, is that one of his main creative concerns is capturing the light falling on his subject matter of choice.
He does, however, choose to create strictly representational artwork because for him it is the most challenging in both concept and execution. “Abstraction is the basis for strong design, but, by itself, I find it shallow,” Baird explains. He also holds fast to the belief that great works of art are those that present an expression, emotion, or mood using abstract design elements but at the same time conveying a message the viewer sees in a representational manner. “I believe that there is strong communication with the viewer when they not only understand what they are looking at, but also can experience a little piece of what the artist is seeing artistically,” Baird says.
From an early age, the painter recalls seeing things from an artistic point of view. His elementary school teachers spotted his talents, and from that time on his parents enrolled him in art classes. While at Brigham Young University, he recalls deciding on art as a life-long career pursuit. Two artists have been major influences—a college professor, Ralph Barksdale, who opened up his eyes to the fine art world both past and present, and legendary painter Richard Schmid. “Richard Schmid inspired me to be passionate about what I choose to paint as well as learning to truly see the subject,” he says.
Baird adds that another major influence on his work is living in the Northwest, where the light emanates shades of blue and violet that are unique to the region. The challenge is that it is so lush and green all year round that landscape subjects can end up appearing too regional.
Although it is still early in his career, Baird says his work has evolved into a looser style over the years. His main mission these days is to have his paintings convey beauty but not be sentimental. “I find beauty in certain light qualities and usually find myself chasing that when I’m working. I try to paint things that I find stimulating and that make me feel alive, and then I hope the viewer gets a sense of that,” Baird says.
Featured in January 2010